Several employees of the Mayfield Consumer Products factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, told NBC News that on Friday night, after hearing tornado warning sirens and asking to go home, they were told by supervisors and team leaders that they had to stay or would be fired. The factory, which produces candles, was later destroyed when a powerful tornado ripped through it, killing at least eight workers.
The first tornado warning sirens began to go off at around 5:30 p.m., employee McKayla Emery told NBC News. Emery, who wanted to remain at the factory, said she heard managers tell four workers, "If you leave, you're more than likely to be fired." Five other employees told NBC News they asked to leave early due to safety concerns, but were told their jobs would be in jeopardy.
Employees were instructed to wait in hallways or bathrooms after the first warning siren. Once it was determined the threat was over, several employees told NBC News they asked again if they could leave the factory, and were told no. Some left anyway, and employee Elijah Johnson told NBC News that managers took a roll call to try to determine who was gone. Johnson said he was instructed not to go home, and asked, "Even with the weather like this, you're still going to fire me?" A manager responded, "Yes."
A second tornado warning siren was heard after 9 p.m. The lights in the building began to flicker, witnesses said, and employees once again took shelter. Emery told NBC News she was near the candle wax and fragrance room when the tornado hit, and she was struck in the head by a piece of concrete. Emery sustained chemical burns from the candle wax hitting her body, and for six hours, she was trapped under rubble. She is now in the hospital, and told NBC News she has kidney damage, her urine is black, and she cannot move her legs because they are so swollen.
In a statement to NBC News, a spokesman for Mayfield Consumer Products called the allegations that workers were not allowed to leave the factory "absolutely untrue."