The sun has risen on scenes of widespread destruction from Arkansas to Illinois following a series of deadly tornadoes that hit overnight on Friday.
At least 50 are dead amid what is one of the worst December tornado outbreaks in recent memory. The powerful storms crumpled an Amazon warehouse and ripped the roof off a nursing home. One tornado alone caused damage in four states, spitting debris up to 30,000 feet (9,100 meters) into the sky, the height a commercial plane would travel. The light of day will almost certainly reveal more heartbreak.
“Everything around us, as much as we could see, is completely destroyed,” Chris Jackson, a storm chaser who tracked the storms as they rolled from Arkansas to Kentucky on Friday, told the Washington Post. “This is without a doubt the worst [tornado] I have ever [seen], and I have been chasing storms for seven years.”
Catastrophic Damage Runs from Arkansas to Illinois
First responders across the six states hit by tornadoes have been busy. Search and rescue operations have taken place at the aforementioned Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, and nursing home in Monette, Arkansas, where at least one has died.
“It’s just a lot of devastation that we have not seen in my years of working in emergency services,” Bob Blankenship, Monette’s mayor, told CNN.
But police, firefighters, and EMTs have fanned out across the region. A candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, is currently a major search and rescue site. There were 110 people trapped when the factory caved in, and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear estimated it would be a mass casualty site. Stormchaser Michael Gordon, who is on the scene, told CNN that Mayfield “looked like a war zone.” Drone video at daybreak shows the town almost completely in ruins.
“I’d be surprised if we don’t see at least five or more” counties with deaths, Beshear said at a news conference.
Blankenship said Monette is without power. That’s also true for more than 300,000 households in states hit by the tornadoes and another roughly 100,000 in other parts of the Midwest.
A Record-Setting Tornado Caused Much of the Damage
At least 19 tornadoes touched down on Friday night amid the severe weather outbreak. But one twister, which has been dubbed the “quad-state tornado,” caused most of the damage — and it could be a record-setting tornado.
The tornado tore across a 240-mile (386-kilometre) stretch that included both Monette to Mayfield. Storm investigators with the National Weather Service will look to see if it remained on the ground the whole time. If it did, it would be the longest tornado track ever recorded in the U.S.
While official ratings are forthcoming, Beshear said it was the “most severe tornado event in Kentucky’s history.” The NWS investigators will do a formal analysis to officially rate the tornado, but radar data captured on Friday night shows that the storm could have been an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale and images on the ground bear it out as well. That would make it a “violent” tornado and place its winds between 166 and 200 mph (267 and 322 kph). There have only been three December EF-4 tornadoes in U.S. history.
This is a developing story and will be updated.