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Emergency response ongoing after deadly tornadoes hit South

Death toll may be higher than 100

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Search and rescue efforts continued Sunday throughout western Kentucky after multiple tornadoes Friday night decimated parts of the state, leaving many communities destroyed.

Tornado damage in Mayfield, Kentucky, on Friday. (Photo: NWS)

Dozens of tornadoes moved across nine states that night — Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana and Ohio — including one historic “long track” tornado that stayed on the ground for more than two and a half hours. The National Weather Service received more than 60 tornado reports.

The long track tornado entered western Kentucky around 9 p.m. CT, continuing its northeast track through Mayfield, where it produced widespread destruction between 9:20 and 9:40 p.m. The tornado then passed through Benton around 9:45 p.m. and across Land Between the Lakes. The tornado continued near Mortons Gap around 10:45 p.m. before reaching Beaver Dam around 11:20 p.m., about 150 miles from where it entered the state.

According to a preliminary report, the NWS has rated the tornado an EF-3 with peak winds of at least 158.

The vast majority of damage and fatalities have been recorded in Kentucky. More than 80 people are likely to have been killed in the state alone, Gov. Andy Beshear told NPR on Sunday morning, and officials project that number to exceed 100.

Beshear declared a state of emergency Saturday morning. Hours later President Biden approved emergency federal assistance for the state. The president is expected to travel to Kentucky this week and meet with Beshear, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration is sending emergency response personnel, water and other needed commodities to the region. Biden’s order will make other federal resources and personnel available.


Beshear said he visited multiple affected areas, including Dawson Springs, the city where his father, former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, grew up.

“I saw almost half the town wiped out. It is a special place. It’s about 3,700 people and the devastation is just indescribable,” Beshear said.

The Mayfield tornado hit while more than 100 people were working the night shift at a candle factory.

“We’ve gotten about 40 out alive and we haven’t had a live rescue since about 3:30 yesterday [Saturday] morning. It’d take a miracle at this point, but we’re praying for it,” Beshear added.

Reports of increased fatalities, injuries and loss of electricity continued throughout the region Sunday. According to Poweroutage.US, more than 26,000 customers had no power as of early Monday morning, mostly in the southwestern part of the state where Mayfield is located. Mayfield Mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan told NBC News on Monday morning that the tornado also knocked out the city’s water tower.

As of Sunday, six people had been reported dead in Edwardsville, Illinois, after a tornado caused an Amazon warehouse to collapse. Authorities on the scene said they’re continuing rescue efforts.

Tornado damage to homes in Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky, on Friday. (Photo: NWS)

Two deaths were reported in northeastern Arkansas, including one man living in a nursing home. Four people have died in northwestern Tennessee and two in Missouri, including one child.

As of Sunday, Kentucky was the only state authorized by the White House to receive federal aid. Biden urged governors to request federal aid if needed.

“I want folks in all these states to know, we’re going to get through this. We’re going to get through this together. And the federal government is not going to walk away,” Biden told NBC News on Saturday.

Other notable weather this week

Periods of heavy mountain snow will likely delay drivers in the Sierra Nevada, Cascades and northern Rockies this week. Some parts of the Sierra could see more than 6 feet of snow, with whiteout conditions and limited visibility at times. Heavy rain could cause occasional flash flooding in the valleys.

A strong, quick-hitting snowstorm could also impact truckers late Wednesday into Thursday across the northern Plains and Upper Midwest.

Major lanes of concern

• Interstate 5 from Seattle to just south of Stockton, California.
• Interstate 29 from Watertown, South Dakota, to the U.S.-Canada border.
• Interstate 80 from Reno, Nevada, to San Francisco.
• Interstate 84 in northeastern Oregon.
• Interstate 90 from Seattle to Chamberlain, South Dakota.
• Interstate 94 from Billings, Montana, to Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
• U.S. Highway 101 from Olympia, Washington, to San Luis Obispo, California

Showers and thunderstorms could rumble across the South again, as well as the Midwest, on Thursday and Friday. However, it’s too early to predict if they may produce tornadoes. Look for updates throughout the week on the FreightWaves website.

Also, record warmth could spread across portions of the Plains and Midwest Tuesday through Thursday, with highs in the 60s and 70s.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.