There’s little to celebrate in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes, but Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is trying to look for the good.
During a media briefing on Dec. 14, Beshear said that the confirmed death count from series of deadly tornadoes on Dec. 10 and 11 holds steady at 74. Eight people are still unidentified or their names have not been released.
“If there’s good news, it’s that our death count has not gone up since yesterday,” Beshear said during Tuesday’s briefing.
At least four tornadoes zipped through Kentucky during the multi-state blitz Friday evening and early Saturday, including one that the National Weather Service says stayed on the ground for at 227 miles. The tornado cluster is considered to be one of the most devastating in history.
Beshear planned to visit Muhlenberg County after the briefing, where some of his family members died during the tornadoes. He said that his father Steve Beshear, a former governor himself, would join him.
The state’s deceased also includes Kentuckians from two months old to age 98. Beshear looked especially pained while talking about the two-month-old baby from Hopkins County who he said was “sucked up” by one of the violent tornadoes that hit the state. The baby was found but died a day and a half later, he said.
There are still at least 109 people unaccounted for after the “strongest set of tornadoes that we have ever seen in Kentucky and what we believe will probably be one of the most devastating tornado events in U.S. history,” Beshear said.
“We’re still in rescue and recovery (mode). We have people missing. I still expect that we will find some more bodies,” Beshear said. “There’s just so much destruction. I hope that’s not the case, but it’s still an expectation, and we could still lose people to injuries like we did that baby.”
Beshear said that cadaver dogs — human remains detection dogs — have been going through the wreckage of the Mayfield Consumer Products factory, where workers had been manufacturing candles when the tornadoes hit. About 110 people were believed to be working the night shift at the time, and Beshear said that company leadership has reportedly found all of the employees except for eight who died during the storm. Kentucky State Police and other agencies are trying to verify the information.
“If you saw it in person, you’d believe that (many people alive) is a miracle,” Beshear said. “The level of absolute destruction in one place is hard to describe when I’m watching a backhoe try to pull a pickup truck off what was the roof that was now halfway down on top of 15 feet of metal and barrels and the rest.”
The Kentucky State Police are asking anyone with information about Mayfield Consumer Products employees to include in the headcount to go to His House Ministries Church, 1250 KY-303, in Mayfield or call (888) 880-8620.
Reports have surfaced that Mayfield Consumer Products leadership may have threatened to fire or decrease shifts for employees who left their Friday shifts early to seek shelter from the anticipated tornadoes. Beshear said that Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate.
Dossett will stay
Beshear said Monday that Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky Emergency Management, had nearly retired “after decades of service” but is staying with the state to help control tornado relief and recovery efforts. Dossett said he would remain onboard until efforts reached a “steady state” and he was confident things would continue running smoothly.
Dossett said that 18,500 Kentucky residents remain without electricity, down from 28,000 on Monday.
Kentucky’s emergency team, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other officials are drafting a “massive plan” to survey, address and assist homeowners who have completely lost their houses or have seen major damage, Dossett said.
“We have begun the blue tarp process. We’ll be in counties in the next several days with teams that will be assisting our teams tarping the houses that can be restored,” Dossett said. “We’re in the process of assessing debris removal, which is a herculean task.”
“The damage from these tornadoes, as you’ve seen in some of the media… pictures and video do not do it justice,” he added.
Dossett said that FEMA officials are going to Kentucky residents on foot to register them for disaster assistance.
“FEMA is on the ground, and they’re on the ground in force,” he said.
Kentuckians with communications access can register at disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-FEMA.
Ways to help
The Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief fund continues to accept donations. As of Tuesday morning, more than $9.89 million has been raised through 66,829 donations, Beshear said. Learn more and donate at teamwkyrelieffund.ky.gov.
“Support for the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund has been nothing short of extraordinary,” Beshear said. “We’re going to be real careful that this fund, a large portion, is available for the needs of Kentuckians that are going to continue long after most of the outside help is gone.”
Beshear said that Kentucky’s state parks have opened accommodations to those whose homes have been destroyed. Volunteers are needed at those parks to help with a variety of tasks. Those interested should email Andy Kasitz, assistant director of the western region of the state’s parks division, at [email protected].
Beshear announced that Kentucky First Lady Britainy Beshear has organized a toy drive for children in western Kentucky who have been affected by the tornadoes. Accepted items include toys, electronics and $25 Visa or Mastercard gift cards. The drive will run Dec. 14-18 so that organizers are able to distribute gifts across the state by Christmas. Find more information and drop-off locations at firstlady.ky.gov/toydrive.
Many local organizations have opportunities to donate materials, time or funds. Read LEO Weekly’s story for an extensive list.
Watch Beshear’s media briefing here:
This story was originally published by LEO Weekly’s sister paper, CityBeat. Find their work here.