Mayfield, Guy., Reuters Dec. 13 (Reuters) — At least 74 people were killed in a hurricane in six states in Kentucky, officials said Monday. And suddenly hundreds of homeless people took refuge in shelters.
Kentucky Governor Andy Bezier said the death toll would rise as 109 people were missing.
But it is expected that none of the dead will come from the destroyed candle factory. A company spokesman later said final calculations showed only eight people had died. At one time, it was feared that dozens of people would be buried under the rubble.
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About 28,000 Kentucky homes and businesses still have no electricity, and 1,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, officials said Friday, surprising people with an unusual hurricane that struck later in the year during cold weather.
The dead, including at least six children, ranged in age from 5 months to 86 years.
«You’re sure for 10 minutes from grief to shock, and then you’re back,» Bessier said, sometimes choking.
In the midst of a roller coaster of emotions, it is difficult for authorities to calculate the exact death toll. The piles of rubble, the disruption of cell service and the number of people who have taken refuge with friends and relatives are all complex efforts to find casualties.
The final death toll at Mayfield’s candle factory will be 8 because the remaining 102 workers who were on duty at the time of the hurricane are still alive and have been taken into account, and the process took three days considering the chaos brought about by the disaster, the company’s spokesman Bob Ferguson said.
«The biggest relief,» Ferguson told Reuters. «Now there is a real urgency to help those who have lost their loved ones.»
Six people were killed on Amazon.com Inc when Hurricane Kentucky struck, including a hurricane that tore through 227 miles (365 km) of land. (AMZN.O) The warehouse in Illinois killed four people in Tennessee and two in Missouri, while a nursing home in Arkansas was attacked, one of two deaths in that state.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Organization is investigating the circumstances surrounding the collapse of the Amazon facility, and said the company is cooperating.
Across Kentucky, neighbors and volunteers provided housing, food, and other assistance to those whose homes were damaged, destroyed, or cut off from electricity.
In the neighboring town of Vingo, about 90 people, ranging from children to the elderly, sleep in green beds, which fill a warehouse-like low-ceilinged room and a large standing cross in a community center adjoining the Presbyterian church.
Stephen Jennity, 52, is survived by his wife, Christy Ponds, and their Chihuahua puppy, Mr. Stayed with the Jingles and 90 Mayfield residents because the energy and heat in their home was knocking.
Their survival felt like a miracle, it renewed his religious faith, and Jennity recalled how her house shook amidst the roaring noise.
«I was talking to God, and I told my girl, ‘As soon as we get out of here, we’re starting to go to church,'» said Geniti, a seventh-generation resident of Mayfield, who said she could leave her hometown in a disaster. No longer recognized.
«This is not the Mayfield I grew up in.»
‘Type of Hope’
The walls of houses across the city collapsed, the roofs were missing and the trees scattered in the meadows were uprooted.
With so many homeless, the Wingo shelter was low on cushions on Saturday. But after a phone call, the local furniture store owner brought two dozen mattresses, said Meghan Ralph, 37, a middle school teacher who appointed himself director of social work when he came to volunteer over the weekend.
«Some of them are really shocked and in despair, almost in denial. For some, the emotion is unbearable,» Ralph said.
The White House has said President Joe Biden will try to boost enthusiasm with a scheduled visit Wednesday to areas badly affected, including Mayfield, after the president announced a major federal disaster in Kentucky on Sunday.
Late Monday, the president declared a state of emergency in Tennessee and Illinois and approved federal assistance to both states.
More than 300 people are being held in Red Cross camps in Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee, and that number is expected to increase. Hundreds more are being temporarily housed in restrooms in area state parks, said Steve Gunan, chief executive of the Kentucky Red Cross.
Still others stayed with friends and relatives whose homes were saved.
David Harkrow, 62, inspected the ruins of what was once his personal law office in Mayfield. Among the ruins was a box that stood erect in a 23-year-old building.
Plans to rebuild.
«You sit and cry or you move,» Harkurov said. «I don’t have much to cry about if I can avoid it.»
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Gabriella Porter’s report on Mayfield, Kentucky; Additional reporting by Peter Seckley and Tyler Clifford in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Susan Heavy in Washington, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional Report on Sivam Patel in Bangalore, by Maria Kaspani and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Paul Thomas, Lisa Schumacher and Peter Cooney
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