Tornadoes kill dozens in 5 states of USA ; final toll still unclear

Tornadoes kill dozens in 5 states of USA ; final toll still unclear
The storms hit a candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon facility in Illinois and a nursing home in Arkansas. Beshear said about 110 people were in the Mayfield factory when the tornado hit.Twitter: Screengrab/ @9NEWSAUS

Mayfield (US): Rescuers were forced to crawl over the dead to get to the living at a Kentucky candle factory walloped by a tornado, part of an unusual cluster that killed dozens in the Midwest and South and flattened whole towns.

By the time churchgoers gathered Sunday morning to pray for the lost, more than 24 hours had elapsed since anyone had been found alive.

Instead, crews recovered pieces of peoples' lives — a backpack, a pair of shoes and a cellphone with 27 missed messages were among the items. Still, a definitive death toll remained elusive, though it was expected to be lower than initially feared.

Kentucky was the worst-hit by far in a swarm of twisters across several states, remarkable because they came at a time of year when cold weather normally limits tornadoes. They left at least eight people dead at the state's Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory and another 12 were reported killed in and around Bowling Green.

At least another 14 people died in Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri.

Authorities are still trying to determine the total number of dead amid confusion over how many were able to escape the factory and the difficulties of searching other hard-hit areas. The twisters made door-to-door searches impossible in some places. “There are no doors,” said Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

“We are going to have over 1,000 homes that are gone, just gone,” he said.

Beshear said Saturday that only 40 of the 110 people working in the candle factory at the time were rescued, and that “it'll be a miracle if anybody else is found alive in it.” But on Sunday, the company said that while eight were confirmed dead and eight remained missing, more than 90 others had been located.

“Many of the employees were gathered in the tornado shelter and after the storm was over they left the plant and went to their homes,” said Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for the company. “With the power out and no landline they were hard to reach initially. We are hoping to find more of those eight unaccounted as we try their home residences.”

Night-shift workers were in the middle of the holiday rush, cranking out candles, when the word went out to seek shelter.

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