Politics

Kentucky clears mountains of tornado debris; 12 children among 74 dead

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MAYFIELD — Clean-up crews in western Kentucky’s devastated communities on Tuesday ramped up their Herculean task of carting away mountains of debris left by last week’s killer tornadoes as the search for additional bodies came up empty, Governor Andy Bashear said.

While the state’s death toll remained at 74, Beshear disclosed that a dozen children were among the tornadoes’ victims. The youngest was a 2-month-old infant. The oldest to die was 98 years old, he said.

“I still expect that we will find some more bodies. There is just so much destruction,” Beshear said at a briefing, adding that more than 100 people remain missing and eight of the victims have yet to be identified.

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Another 14 people died in four other states: six at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Illinois, four in Tennessee, two in Missouri and two in Arkansas.

More than 100 people were working at a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, when the storm, which Bashear said “will probably be one of the most devastating tornado events in U.S. history,” reduced the plant to rubble. Eight people were killed, far less than initially feared.

“If you saw it in person, you would believe that’s a miracle,” Beshear said of the fact that more people were not killed.

Hundreds National Guard service members were in communities, searching for victims and survivors, clearing roads and providing police services, Beshear said.

As work crews removed the remains of leveled cities and towns one truckload at a time, the governor mused about its psychological value to the communities.

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“There is something therapeutic about taking that chaos and destruction and death and getting it out of some of those areas,” said Bashear.

President Joe Biden plans to visit the area, including Mayfield, on Wednesday. He declared a major federal disaster in Kentucky on Sunday.

Many of the victim’s relatives started the emotionally trying ordeal of making funeral arrangements.

Carla Cope, whose 29-year-old son Clayton, a U.S. Navy veteran, was among the six Amazon workers, said the company has offered to pay for the arrangements.

“We spoke with him just before the tornado,” she said by phone. “We had called to make sure that he was in shelter … I told him, I said: you need to get yourself to shelter and we said ‘I love you’ and we hung up.”

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An Amazon spokesman declined to confirm that the company was picking up the funeral expenses but said it was sending workers an array of supplies and services, including food and water.

U.S. workplace safety regulators are investigating the circumstances around the Amazon warehouse collapse https://www.reuters.com/world/us/investigation-into-amazoncom-illinois-building-collapse-opened-labor-official-2021-12-13.

‘HE HAD A HUGE HEART’

Clayton Cope loved his dog, video games and hunting and fishing with his father, his mother said.

“He was a really quirky kid with a great sense of humor and he had a lot of friends,” she said. “He drew people to him and he had a huge heart.”

The disaster has also produced an outpouring of volunteers https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/help-arrives-kentucky-with-stew-chain-saws-place-stay-2021-12-14.

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At lunchtime on Tuesday, hundreds of people converged on Mayfield-Graves County Fairgrounds, where a loosely organized group of volunteers with food trucks came from hundreds of miles away to provide free meals. The area has become a magnet for a range of relief efforts.

Coordinating the lunch rush was Daniel Oxnard, 42, a student, who started things off on Saturday when he drove his van packed with food and cooking gear more than 200 miles (320 km) and served 1,000 meals. Since then, others joined in, including Amish volunteers from Tennessee, he said.

“They come here every day with a trailer-load of food and two full griddles and they just cook their hearts out,” he said.

By Tuesday afternoon, 18,000 Kentucky homes and businesses still lacked power, according to PowerOutages.us, more than four days after the tornadoes surprised people by striking unusually late in the year. Insured losses from the swarm of tornadoes could total up to $5 billion https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/deadly-us-tornadoes-cost-insurers-about-3-bln-kcc-2021-12-14, industry experts said on Tuesday.

More than 300 people in Kentucky, as well as in Arkansas and Tennessee, were being housed in Red Cross shelters, and that number is expected to grow. Hundreds more have been placed temporarily in resorts at area state parks, Kentucky Red Cross Chief Executive Steve Cunanan said.

(Reporting by Cheney Orr in Mayfield, Kentucky and Brendan O’Brien Richa Naidu in Chicago; Writing by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio)

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