Speed Reads

Nature's Terrors

Kentucky governor says he's 'got towns that are gone' after tornadoes, but death toll may be lower than feared

A destructive cell of strong tornadoes that hit at least eight states Friday night and Saturday morning has left dozens dead, officials said Sunday, and the epicenter of destruction is Western Kentucky, where one unusually potent tornado leveled houses and buildings along a 200-mile-long path. "I've got towns that are gone, that are just, I mean gone," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said Sunday. "My dad's hometown," Dawson Springs, "half of it isn't standing."

Officials said they are uncertain how many people died, due largely to the extent of the damage and spotty cellphone service. Beshear estimated Sunday morning that more than 100 people could have died in Kentucky, but in the afternoon he said the eventual death toll could be as low as 50. 

"I think it's going to be significantly worse than that," Beshear cautioned. "Remember, we're still finding bodies. I mean, we've got cadaver dogs in towns they shouldn't have to be in." Still, he added, "we are praying that maybe original estimates of those we have lost were wrong," which would "be pretty wonderful." 

Beshear asked for prayers and long-term financial support for the devastated areas, including Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 in Graves County that was wiped out by the tornado. "To the people of America, there is no lens to show you the extent of the damage here in Graves County or in Kentucky," he said. ABC News tried, with drone footage and on-the-ground interviews by anchor David Muir.

Along with the fatalities in Kentucky, the knot of tornadoes killed at least four people in Tennessee, two in Arkansas, two in Missouri, and at least six workers, age 26 to 62, at an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois. 

The largest cluster of deaths is believed to be at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, where 110 people were working the night shift. Beshear initially said only 40 people had been rescued and the rest were unlikely to have survived, but on Sunday afternoon he said the company had provided "different information" that he hoped was accurate. Mayfield Consumer Products told The Washington Post eight workers are confirmed dead, eight more are missing, and more than 90 had ben located. 

The tornados also destroyed sections of Bowling Green, Kentucky. And as in the other hard-hit places, residents who survived said they were thankful to be alive and planned to rebuild.