Survivors of an enormous storm system say they’ve never seen anything like the storms that tore through several states late Friday and early Saturday, spawning tornadoes that sounded like freight trains and extreme winds that destroyed homes and buildings including an Amazon warehouse and an elder care facility.
More than 70 people are feared dead, with rescue workers still sifting through the wreckage Saturday afternoon.
The storm system traveled east from Arkansas into parts of Missouri, Mississippi and Illinois before it barreled through Tennessee and Kentucky, where a candle factory was among the structures that were wiped out.
“Everything happened so fast,” Kyanna Parsons-Perez, a candle factory employee, said on the “Today” show on Saturday morning.
The factory was hit by a tornado and collapsed onto an estimated 110 people who were inside at the time, according to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D). So far, about 40 people have been rescued, but Beshear believes “at least dozens” are dead inside the factory.
“This will be, I believe, the deadliest tornado system to ever run through Kentucky,” the governor said. One tornado is believed to have ripped through 200 miles of land, flattening entire neighborhoods.
Parsons-Perez told CNN that it “breaks her heart” to hear how many people did not make it out of the factory. The workers had gathered in a storm shelter in the building, she said, when the lights began flickering and she felt a gale coming.
“All of the sudden we could feel the wind, and then my ears kind of start popping, as if they would if you’re on a plane. And then we did like a little rock ― this way, and this way ― and then, boom, everything came down on us,” she recalled on “Today.” Parsons-Perez said she heard screams and prayers in Spanish and English.
She started streaming live on Facebook while she was pinned beneath about 5 feet of rubble in order to draw attention to the factory workers’ predicament after a 911 responder told her many people needed assistance.
“It was absolutely the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said, adding that those who were trapped had help from an unlikely source: prisoners who were working in the factory at the time.
“When I tell you those prisoners were working their tails off to get us out ― they were helping,” she said. “Because, you know, they could’ve used that moment to try to run away or anything. They did not. They were there, they were helping us.”
A woman in Bowling Green, Kentucky, said the winds pulled her out of her house just as she was corralling the last of her family members into the basement.
“We ran downstairs because we heard the siren, and then I heard something that sounded like a train,” the woman told WHAS, a local ABC affiliate. She gave only her first name, Angie.
“I got all of the kids in the basement,” Angie said, recalling how she handed her granddaughter off to another family member before being torn away from them.
“It picked me up and threw me out of the house,” she said of the storm, which caused an injury to her leg. Angie said her elderly mother was also tossed out of the house and landed under a sedan in the driveway, injuring her head. She’s now in stable condition at a hospital.
Eddie Knight, a resident of Sacramento, Kentucky, filmed terrifying video lit only by flashes of lightning of a hulking tornado near his home. (Watch his video above.)
Knight told CNN on Saturday afternoon that he has seen plenty of storms, but nothing quite like that tornado. His home was spared, but he knows of others who were not so lucky.
Drone footage showed scenes of total devastation above Mayfield, Kentucky, where the candle factory once sat.
Two Mayfield neighbors survived by “laying down in their hallway,” Spectrum News reporter Jonathon Gregg wrote on Twitter. Photos of their homes showed crumbling brick walls and piles of splintered wood and scattered appliances.
Rescue workers were still digging people out of the Amazon warehouse collapse in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Saturday. Edwardsville Police Chief Michael Fillback told a St. Louis news station that around 50 people had likely been in the warehouse when it was destroyed.
Authorities say people were killed, but a precise number is not yet known.
A local CBS affiliate, KMOV, spoke to Aisha White, who said she was on the phone on Friday night with a family member who worked at the warehouse.
“He was on the phone with me while it was happening,” White told the outlet. “The tornado was hitting the back of the building, the trucks were coming in, I told him to jump out the truck and duck.” White could not immediately find her family member when she arrived on the scene.
An Edwardsville resident who gave his name as Jack Bench described waiting out the storm in his basement as the storm passed overhead.
“It sounded like a train went through here. It lasted about three minutes and then it got quiet,” he told FOX2 reporter John Pertzborn.