Governor Andy Beshear said 74 Kentuckians are confirmed dead, and another 109 are unaccounted for three days after devastating storms ripped through western Kentucky. The ages of those killed range from 5 months to 86. Eight of the fatalities are awaiting identification.
Thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. Beshear thinks it could take weeks before the state has a final count on deaths and the level of property destruction. The National Weather Service (NWS) has confirmed at least five tornadoes from the deadly storms. One tornado remained on the ground in Kentucky for more than 200 miles.
In what he and others described as the fastest response in the nation’s history, Beshear talked about the speed at which President Joe Biden approved a federal emergency declaration. Resources including supplies and specialized teams arrived almost immediately. Kentucky Director of Emergency Management Michael Dossett said some search teams were on the ground before he completed the official request application.
President Biden announced that he will visit Mayfield and Dawson Springs on Wednesday.
Nearly 450 Kentucky National Guard soldiers are working to assist in the effort with 95 of them searching for those killed.
Donors have already pledged more than $6 million to the state’s relief fund to help victims. The governor said the first expenditures would include $5,000 in burial expenses for each family that lost a loved one. He asked funeral homes not to charge more than the donated amount. Beshear said the vital statistics group would assist in identifying who should receive the aid, and there will not be an application process.
Significant debris removal has begun in some impacted cities, but Beshear warned that it might take a considerable amount of time. The number of livestock killed in the storms presents another issue in the damaged area.
The Department for Community Based Services building in Mayfield suffered damage, so a mobile unit will help families who were already in need before the storm hit.
Beshear offered a message to those in western Kentucky: “This is one state where people love one another, and I think everybody in Kentucky, and everybody in the country, is standing with you.”
Dossett said the storms damaged 29 electricity transmission lines and 8,000 power poles, plus it limited water and wastewater systems in 14 communities. Three of those water systems are not operational.
Cellular providers have delivered mobile units to replace vital towers damaged or destroyed.
“This is not going to be a week or a month operation,” Dossett explained. “This will go on for years to come. This is a massive event ‒ the largest and most devastating in Kentucky history.”
Governor Beshear thanked federal officials for the assistance, including four Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams currently searching for survivors. The cities of Lexington and Louisville also provided search and rescue teams, which are stationed at the candle factory in Mayfield.
Beshear said state officials are working to confirm company reports that 94 of the 110 people inside the factory when the storm hit are safe. Beshear called that, if confirmed, “a miracle.” Saturday morning, he feared that more than 70 may have perished in the factory. Eight are confirmed dead at that location, with another eight unaccounted for.
State parks opened to provide shelter for those left with no place to stay. The governor said that more than 100 Kentuckians have arrived at Pennyroyal, and 88 rooms are available at Kenlake and Kentucky Dam Village combined. Once crews restore power to Lake Barkley, the state will have room for 50 more storm survivors.
Region 4 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Gracia Szczech urged anyone impacted to apply for assistance online or call (800) 621-3362. Teams will be in affected areas looking for people searching their damaged homes or making repairs. She insisted that survivors speak only with FEMA personnel with proper credentials.
Governor Beshear signed an executive order prohibiting price gouging to prevent the sale of goods or services, such as gasoline, at a price grossly in excess of its sale point before the state of emergency declaration. The executive order remains in place for the duration of the state of emergency.
First Lady Britainy Beshear announced a toy and gift card drive for families impacted by the tornado. Unwrapped toys, technology, and $25 gift cards can be dropped off in Covington, Independence, Lexington, Louisville, Paducah, and most state police posts starting Tuesday, December 14, and concluding Saturday, December 18. Click here to learn where to donate.