The evangelical humanitarian charity Samaritan’s Purse has sent teams with equipment and supplies to respond to the devastation caused by deadly tornadoes that tore through six states in the South and Midwest Friday night through Saturday morning, killing dozens.
Some estimates suggest more than 100 were people were killed, and hundreds of homes were destroyed as more than 30 tornadoes ripped through Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.
In a statement, Samaritan’s Purse said it is deploying teams to Arkansas and Kentucky.
“We have sent one Disaster Response Unit — a tractor trailer loaded with equipment and supplies — to Arkansas already and another will be headed to Kentucky on Sunday,” the Saturday statement reads. “Some of our staff members are already on the ground in both states.”
The charity encourages those who want to help in the tornado relief efforts to sign up for volunteer opportunities.
“Overall, this unusually violent, late fall outbreak is believed to be the deadliest U.S. tornado event ever recorded for December, surpassing storms that killed 38 people in Mississippi on Dec. 5, 1953,” the Samaritan’s Purse statement reads.
“One of the Dec. 10-11 tornadoes, known as the ‘quad-state tornado,’ formed in Arkansas, crossed parts of Tennessee and Missouri, and then ripped across southwestern Kentucky. This storm, (which may actually have been a cluster of closely aligned tornadoes rather than a single one), left a trail of destruction more than 200 miles long, among the lengthiest twister tracks ever documented in the United States.”
More than 70 people were killed in Kentucky, a state victimized by four tornadoes, including one that stayed on the ground for over 200 miles. The collapse of a candle factory trapped dozens. Gov. Andy Beshear said Saturday that the death toll “could end up exceeding 100 before the day is done.” Deaths were also reported in Tennessee, Arkansas and Illinois, where an Amazon factory collapsed.
The worst damage may be across western Kentucky. Gov. Beshear declared a state of emergency. He activated over 180 Kentucky National Guard members and the Kentucky State Police. The state is using armories as places of refuge for those in need of shelter.
“I’m pretty sure that number [killed in Kentucky] is north of 70. … It may, in fact, exceed 100 before the day is done,” Beshear said in a statement, calling the storms “the most severe tornado event in Kentucky’s history.”
The city of Mayfield, with a population of 10,000 in Graves County, was especially devastated. When a tornado hit the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory Friday night, about 110 people were working and dozens are feared dead there, Beshear said, according to CNN.
“They rescued 40,” the governor said at a news conference. “There’s at least 15 feet of metal with cars on top of it, barrels of corrosive chemicals that are there. It will be a miracle if anybody else is found alive in it.”
In Arkansas, at least two people were killed, five injured and over 20 were trapped in the Monette Manor nursing home near the Tennessee border, according to Reuters.
In Illinois, six people died after a roof of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville collapsed.
“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,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos tweeted. “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.”
In Tennessee, at least four people were confirmed dead. Ten others were injured, at least one person was missing, and an additional 64 people were “walking wounded,” according to Alex Pellom, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency chief of staff, The New York Times reports.
“We’re reminded that in just a moment, livelihoods are lost and lives are changed forever, and we saw that across our state today,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said.
In Missouri, at least one person was killed and two were injured near St. Louis.
Samaritan’s Purse has urged prayers, saying its staff members are assessing the situation and “serving the hurting in Jesus’ Name.”
“People ask me, ‘Is God mad at us? Is he angry?’ I’m here to say, ‘No, we have storms like that that come in life,’” Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham, the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, said in a video message.
“The important thing is that we help one another, put our arms around one another, comfort one another, and pray for each other. The greatest thing we can do right now is pray. Pray for the people that lost everything. These are mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, children that have lost their homes and lost their lives, lost their property. They need our prayers.”