After a tornado demolished a candle factory in western Kentucky Friday night, the Rev. Stephen Boyken climbed the rubble and heard someone beneath call out.
“She was stuck underneath a wall and asked, ‘Can you hold my hand?’ ” Boyken recalled Tuesday.
Boyken grabbed the hand, prayed with the woman and – along with others – helped her stay awake until she could be pulled out of the collapsed Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, he told CNN’s “New Day.”
Later, he stepped off the rubble, and saw men from his church removing debris in an assembly line and “pull some people out that are no longer with us.”
“A lot of people were weeping. But at the same time, just as sure as there was just this grief that was coming upon us, there was just this courageous moment where people just worked together,” Boyken said.
Boyken, lead pastor at His House Ministries in Mayfield, was one of numerous community members who rushed to the factory Friday night after a tornado ripped into it – part of a deadly series of twisters and storms that left at least 88 people dead in five states, including at least 74 in Kentucky alone.
The tornado killed eight people at the factory, where more than 100 people were working at the time. The facility had been “going 24/7” in part to meet Christmastime candle demand, US Rep. James Comer, who represents the area, told CNN.
Witnesses described community members and emergency workers helping each other reach the those trapped at the site.
Another Mayfield resident, Navy veteran Adam Slack, said he went to the site when a friend texted him to say the factory had collapsed.
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“As a community, we all came together and started clearing the roads and getting the debris off the roads so that the paramedics and fire (personnel) could get in there to the … candle factory,” Slack told “New Day” on Tuesday.
Eventually, Slack helped a survivor from the site.
“The poor woman, she would not let go of my hand. I asked her multiple times if she was OK physically. She says, ‘Yeah … I just want my dad,’” Slack said..
“Got her back to my vehicle, gave her some shelter, blankets, kept her warm … . She kept telling me to go back and help somebody else. I said, ‘Well, I want to make sure you’re OK first,’ ” Slack recalled.
He lent her a cell phone, and she called her father, who arrived to pick her up, Slack said.
The factory site was “horrific,” he said.
“If I talk about it a little bit too long, it’ll bring tears to your eyes. … The wind was still going. Power lines, there was a couple gas leaks. People everywhere. It looked like a mound of ants when you kick it over. Everybody is trying to help, (trying) to get in and get people out safely,” Slack said.