Workers, volunteers and members of the National Guard deployed to areas of Kentucky hit by a series of tornadoes to begin the long process of recovery, including replacing thousands of damaged utility poles, delivering bottles of drinking water and continuing to search for the dead.
Friday’s tornado outbreak that killed at least 88 people in five states – including 74 in Kentucky – traced a path of devastation that stretched from Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed, to the Illinois, where an Amazon fulfillment center was heavily damaged.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said the death toll could rise as authorities continued to work around debris that was slowing recovery efforts. Nearly 450 members of the National Guard have been mobilized in the state, and 95 of them are searching for those presumed dead.
“With this amount of damage and rubble, it may be a week or more before we have a final tally of the number of lives lost,” the governor said.
Kentucky authorities said the level of destruction hampered their ability to account for the damage. Still, efforts turned to repairing the power grid, sheltering those whose homes were destroyed, and delivering supplies.
Statewide, about 26,000 homes and businesses were without power, according to poweroutage.us, including nearly all of those in Mayfield. More than 10,000 homes and businesses had no water as of Monday, and another 17,000 are on boil water advisories, Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett told reporters.
A fund set up by the state has raised $6 million in donations, according to the governor. Kentucky First Lady Britainy Beshear has launched a Christmas toy drive for children affected by the storm. She is asking for unboxed toys, books and $25 gift cards to be distributed to families in need.
State and local authorities have said it could take years for some of the hardest hit areas to fully recover.
“Again, this is not going to be a week-long or month-long operation, folks. This will go on for years. It’s a massive event,” Dossett said.
Five tornadoes struck Kentucky in all, including one with an extraordinarily long path of about 200 miles (320 kilometers), authorities said.
In addition to the deaths in Kentucky, the tornadoes also killed at least six people in Illinois, where Amazon’s Edwardsville fulfillment center was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where the nursing home was destroyed and the governor said workers were protecting residents with their own bodies; and two in Missouri.
The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced on Monday that it has opened an investigation into the collapse of the Amazon warehouse in Illinois.
Mayfield, home to 10,000 people, suffered some of the worst damage. Debris of destroyed buildings and shredded trees covered the ground of the city. Twisted metal sheets, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets. Windows were blown out and roofs torn from buildings still standing.
Not far from Mayfield, a church serving as a refuge in Wingo said it expected to accommodate more than 100 people on Monday evening.
Glynda Glover, 82, said she didn’t know how long she would stay at the Wingo shelter: her apartment has been uninhabitable since the wind blew through the windows and covered her bed with glass and asphalt.
“I will stay here until we get back to what is normal,” she said, “and I don’t know what normal is anymore.”
On the outskirts of Dawson Springs, another town devastated by the storms, homes were reduced to rubble and trees toppled, littering the landscape for at least a mile. Hopkins County Executive Judge Jack Whitfield Jr. found more than 60 percent of the town, including hundreds of homes, to be “irreparable.”
“A full recovery is going to take years,” he said.
By BRUCE SCHREINER and CLAIRE GALOFARO
Schreiner reported from Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Associated Press writer Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.