At least 88 dead, several missing, as around 34 tornadoes rip across central and southern US states
Seven central and southern US states were searching for survivors and surveying the devastation Saturday after a series of powerful tornadoes, 34 tornadoes have been confirmed, intensified by severe storms ripped across the region on Friday evening, 10 December 2021, leaving 88 people dead. Overall, several states were heavily impacted by tornadoes. Homes and businesses incurred severe damage in many communities along the path of each of the tornadic storms, with some collapsed and reduced to rubble. Trees had their leaves and branches completely removed and ground scouring occurred in some areas. At least 88 people were confirmed dead after the tornadoes, 74 of whom were in Kentucky, many of those in a candle factory in Mayfield that had around 110 employees working the night shift when a tornado roared through causing it to partially collapse. US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Kentucky, the state hardest hit when one of four tornadoes, including a massive storm, devastated Mayfield, a small town 215km north-west of Nashville, Tennessee. Multiple tornadoes pummelled a 200-mile plus area in what US President Joe Biden described as an “unimaginable tragedy”. “This has been the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said. “The level of devastation is unlike anything that I have ever seen,” Beshear said.
Sarah Burgess, a trooper with the Kentucky State Police, said that “the entire building is essentially levelled”. Trooper Burgess later added that she could not tabulate the number of fatalities as search and rescue teams were going through the rubble. There were around 110 workers in the factory, Mayfield Consumer Products, when the tornado struck. Mayfield mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan said the candle factory “looks as if a bomb has dropped on it”. “We hope there are still rescues to be made. We fear that it is now just recovery,” O’Nan added.
At a late afternoon news conference, President Biden said the loss from the tornado strikes in Kentucky and neighbouring states was “profound” and a “tragedy” and the estimated 22 tornadoes that touched down “likely to be one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history”. “We still don’t know how many lives were lost or the full extent of the damage,” he said. “I say to all the victims you’re in our prayers and to the first responders and emergency personnel, this is the right thing to do at the right time. We’re going to get through this.” Biden said federal aid agencies, including FEMA, “would focus on getting support to where it is needed”.
The deadly late-season tornado outbreak produced catastrophic damage and numerous fatalities across portions of the Southern United States and Ohio Valley from the evening of 10 December 2021 to the early morning of 11 December 2021. The event developed as a trough progressed eastward across the United States, interacting with an unseasonably moist and unstable environment across the Mississippi Valley. Tornado activity began in northeastern Arkansas, before progressing into Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The most prolific activity was caused by a long-track supercell thunderstorm that produced a family of strong tornadoes, if not a single long-track tornado, across four Mid-Southern states. The nocturnal tornado first touched down in northeastern Arkansas, near Jonesboro and tracked through the Missouri Bootheel, ripping through towns such as Monette and Leachville, Arkansas and Hayti and Caruthersville, Missouri. After crossing the Mississippi River into portions of West Tennessee, the storm eventually reached Western Kentucky, where the towns of Mayfield, Benton, Dawson Springs, Cayce, Kentucky and Bremen suffered severe to catastrophic damage.
Preliminary estimates suggest the tornado family, identified by some media outlets as the "Quad-State tornado," due to the storm's similar characteristics to the Tri-State tornado that occurred 96 years prior, may have cut a path of up to 400km across the affected areas. If confirmed to be a single tornado by storm surveys, it would surpass the 18 March 1925 tornado event, which carved a 352km path across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana in terms of path length. Other tornadic thunderstorms affected portions of eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, western and middle Tennessee and western and central Kentucky during the late evening into the overnight hours of 11 December, including four intense tornadoes that hit Bowling Green, Kentucky; Dresden, Tennessee; Edwardsville, Illinois and Defiance, Missouri. This included a second supercell and tornado family, which produced an EF3 tornado tracking over 180km in Tennessee and southern Kentucky, as well as numerous tornadoes throughout southern and central Kentucky.
At least 88 people are confirmed to have been killed by the tornadoes, surpassing the Vicksburg, Mississippi tornado of 5 December 1953, which caused 38 fatalities, as the deadliest December tornado event ever recorded in the United States. Unconfirmed estimates suggest that the tornado outbreak may have caused 100 deaths across five states, which would make it the deadliest tornado event in the United States since May 2011. In Kentucky, 74 people have been confirmed dead so far with an additional 109 missing, currently making the outbreak the second-deadliest tornado event in Kentucky history, behind the Louisville-area tornado of March 27, 1890, which caused 76 deaths.
Other structures that were badly damaged include an Amazon facility in Illinois, where six died, officials said and a nursing home in Arkansas.
About 30 people who were in the Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, were taken to the Police Station for evaluation. “This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement.
The weather system that passed over the region was intensified when cold air from the plains met unusually warm air from the south.
Most of the devastation occurred on the “warm” side of the storm, and at least one of the four recorded tornadoes may have been on the ground for 160km.
Still, the scale of the damage from the system, coming after a series of recent climate-crisis intensified “weather events” across the US, caught many by surprise. Some 12 hours after the storm, named Atticus by the Weather Channel, struck, 500 000 homes and businesses across eight states were without power.
“There were tons of vehicles just thrown like toys,” said channel meteorologist Chris Bruin, noting that tractor dealerships were destroyed and semis blown over along the highway.
The severity of the storm system forced workers at a National Weather Service office near St Louis to themselves seek shelter as a tornado passed nearby, killing at least one person in building collapses near the towns of Defiance and New Melle. “This was an incredible storm that lasted a long time and covered a lot of territory,” said Larry Vannozzi, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office covering the Nashville area.
In Arkansas, a tornado struck a nursing home in Monette, killing one person and trapping 20 people inside as the building collapsed. In addition, three storm-related deaths were confirmed in Tennessee.
The storms also caused a CSX company freight train to derail in the city of Madisonville in western Kentucky. Initial reports indicated no injuries.
The National Weather Service is working to determine whether this was a single storm or a series of concurrent storms in the same area. More than 100 tornado warnings were issued across the region, the Weather Channel said.
An “explosive, severe weather set-up” was how Kentucky meteorologist with WHAS11 First Alert StormTeam described it at 22h45 local time on Friday night. “We need to be taking this very seriously.” In his comments, President Biden was asked if the warnings that came ahead of the storm were sufficient. “What warning was there, was it strong enough and was it heeded?” would be looked at, he said.
Sources: The Guardian,