At least one dead after ‘severe weather event’ in Illinois

The number of people killed after a tornado destroyed part of an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Friday night has risen to six, officials said Saturday.

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF3 tornado touched down at the facility, causing the collapse of about 150 yards of the building, Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said at a news conference Saturday evening.

Six people were killed, one was airlifted and 45 were rescued safely, he said.

Authorities identified the victims Sunday as Austin J. McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville, Illinois; Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis, Missouri; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 34, of St. Louis, Missouri; Larry E. Virden, 46, Collinsville, Illinois; and Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois.

Whiteford said the search has now turned to a recovery mission, and that crews are expected to work during the daylight over the next three days to recover everyone who may have been trapped.

Officials do not know how many people may still be in the building and Whiteford added that the warehouse, which had been in the middle of a shift change, did not have a count of how many employees were there when the storm hit.

Emergency crews respond at a damaged, Inc warehouse after a tornado passed through Edwardsville, Ill., on Dec. 10, 2021.Chris Phillips / Maverick Media Group via Reuters

At Saturday evening’s news conference, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker addressed the families of the people killed in the storm.

“There are no words to assuage the pain of losing a loved one and even fewer when that cost and that loss comes so suddenly,” Prtizker said. “Families say goodbye in a routine fashion when their loved ones go off to their jobs. We don’t think that they’ll never come home. It’s devastating.”

He said there were no additional deaths or injuries reported from the storm.

Prtizker said he spoke with Amazon and implored them to assist with the community recovery effort, and said he was told the company would do so.

Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos said Saturday on Twitter that “the news from Edwardsville is tragic.”

“We’re heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones,” he said. “All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis. We extend our fullest gratitude to all the incredible first responders who have worked so tirelessly at the site.”

At least 100 emergency vehicles descended on the facility after the warehouse partially collapsed.

Rescue crews were still sorting through the rubble early Saturday and cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move debris.

Images from the scene show rows of emergency vehicles alongside piles of debris and rows of bare building pillars.

The strength of the storm destroyed a portion of the building that stretched the length of a football field. The 40-foot tall concrete walls collapsed inward on both sides and the roof collapsed downward, Whiteford said.

“It was a very severe weather event,” Edwardsville Police Chief Mike Fillback said earlier Saturday, adding that there was a lot of debris from the building which was predominantly constructed from steel and concrete.

Amazon opened the facility, which includes two warehouses spanning 1.5 million square feet, in Edwardsville five years ago, according to the Bellville News-Democrat.

The Amazon facility was used to divide orders into different routes and load packages into vans to be delivered, Whiteford said.

Dozens of people are feared dead, including at least 70 in Kentucky, after a storm caused a series of tornadoes to tear through five states late Friday evening and early Saturday morning.

Elsewhere, tornadoes also hit a nursing home in Monette, Arkansas, and caused a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, to collapse, trapping workers inside.

Authorities estimate around 110 people were inside the factory when the tornado hit. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said dozens of deaths were expected at the site.

“It’s very hard, really tough, and we’re praying for each and every one of those families,” he said at a news conference on Saturday morning.

Associated Press and Claire Cardona contributed.

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