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Residents of Kentucky counties where tornadoes killed dozens of people could be without heat, water or electricity in frigid temperatures for weeks or longer, state officials warned Monday, as the toll of damage and deaths came into clearer focus in five states slammed by the swarm of twisters.
Watch Beshear’s remarks in the player above.
Kentucky authorities said the sheer level of destruction was hindering their ability to tally the damage from Friday night’s storms. At least 88 people – including 74 in Kentucky – were killed by the tornado outbreak that also destroyed a nursing home in Arkansas, heavily damaged an Amazon distribution center in Illinois and spread its deadly effects into Tennessee and Missouri.
In Kentucky, as searches continued for those still missing, efforts also turned to repairing the power grid, sheltering those whose homes were destroyed and delivering drinking water and other supplies.
RECOVERY: How to help tornado victims in Kentucky and beyond
In Mayfield, one of the hardest hit towns, those who survived faced a high in the 50s and a low below freezing Monday without any utilities.
Across the state, about 26,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, according to poweroutage.us, including nearly all of those in Mayfield. More than 10,000 homes and businesses have no water, and another 17,000 are under boil-water advisories, Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett told reporters.
Kentucky was the worst hit by far in the cluster of twisters across several states, remarkable because they came at a time of year when cold weather normally limits tornadoes. At least 74 people died in the state, Beshear said Monday, offering the first specific count of the dead.
Still, Beshear warned that it could take days longer to pin down the full death toll, with door-to-door searches impossible in some places.
Initially as many as 70 people were feared dead in the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, but the company said Sunday that eight deaths were confirmed and eight people remained missing, while more than 90 others had been located. Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for the company, said many employees gathered in a tornado shelter, then left the site and were hard to reach because phone service was out.
Debris from destroyed buildings and shredded trees covered the ground in Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 in western Kentucky. Twisted sheet metal, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets. Windows were blown out and roofs torn off the buildings that were still standing.
EXPLAINER: Was tornado outbreak related to climate change?
Four twisters hit Kentucky in all, including one with an extraordinarily long path of about 200 miles (322 kilometers), authorities said.
In addition to the deaths in Kentucky, the tornadoes also killed at least six people in Illinois, where the Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where the nursing home was destroyed and the governor said workers shielded residents with their own bodies; and two in Missouri.
Amazon’s Kelly Nantel said the Illinois warehouse was “constructed consistent with code.” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said there would be an investigation into updating code “given serious change in climate that we are seeing across the country” that appears to factor into stronger tornadoes.
Not far from Mayfield, 67 people spent Sunday night at a church serving as a shelter in Wingo, and 40 more were expected to arrive Monday. Organizers were working to find a mobile outdoor shower facility and a laundry truck, expecting many of the displaced to need a long-term place to stay. Volunteers were scrambling to meet more immediate needs, too, such as underwear and socks.
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