Deadly tornadoes devastate communities in six states

By Fernando Alfonso III and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 3:54 p.m. ET, December 12, 2021
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3:54 p.m. ET, December 12, 2021

Kentucky district judge among those who died in tornadoes

From CNN's Keith Allen

District Judge Brian Crick (Kentucky Court of Justice)
District Judge Brian Crick (Kentucky Court of Justice)

District Judge Brian Crick was among those who lost their lives when a series of tornadoes pummeled the state this weekend, according to a statement from Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.

“This is a shocking loss to his family, his community and the court system, and his family is in our prayers,” Minton said in a statement posted on the court’s Facebook page.

Crick served McLean and Muhlenberg counties, the court said.

The Graves County Courthouse in Mayfield was also heavily damaged in Friday night’s deadly tornado, according to the statement.

1:46 p.m. ET, December 12, 2021

Kentucky governor says he fears some morgues "aren’t big enough" to handle the loss of life

From CNN’s Claudia Dominguez

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says he fears that more than 80 lives have been lost in the storms that pummeled his state and that he expects the death toll to rise over 100.

Beshear told NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday that he also expects other challenges ahead given power outages and winter weather conditions and said that certain morgues throughout the state may not be big enough to accommodate the current needs.

“One of our challenges is we’re losing so many people in this, most of our morgues aren’t big enough, so our coroners from all over the state are coming in,” Beshear said.

The governor added that hospitals around the state are also coordinating aid and sending help to hard-hit areas. 

Beshear asked people to stay at home and leave roads open for emergency workers and said he is thankful for communities in and outside the state for their support as they rally with Kentucky.

2:14 p.m. ET, December 12, 2021

More than 50,000 Kentucky residents without power following devastating tornado

From CNN's Tina Burnside 

Cars make their way past tornado damage on December 11, in Mayfield, Kentucky.
Cars make their way past tornado damage on December 11, in Mayfield, Kentucky. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 50,000 residents across the state of Kentucky remain without power following Friday night's storm.  

As of 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, 53,553 people are without power according to PowerOutage.US. 

In an interview on Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said most of the outages were in the Western part of the state. 


12:24 p.m. ET, December 12, 2021

US Navy veteran died during tornado at Amazon warehouse in Illinois

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy 

(Family of Clayton Cope)
(Family of Clayton Cope)

The family of Clayton Cope, a 29-year-old US Navy veteran, confirmed to CNN that he died when a tornado hit an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Friday evening. 

Carla Cope, Clayton's mother, told CNN that her son was, "a really good kid." He would have turned 30 on Dec. 27, she said. 

"He loved to hang out with his friends," she said. "He was big-hearted; he would do anything for anybody."

Clayton, like many of the men in the Cope family, spent six years serving in the US Navy, Carla said. He worked as a calibration specialist on aircraft carriers, she said. 

Clayton had worked for Amazon for just over a year as a maintenance mechanic, Carla said. His father also worked at the facility in the same position. 

"Had [Clay] not been there, my husband would have," she said. 

Carla last spoke with Clay shortly before the tornado. She told him that the storm was coming and remembers him talking to someone else nearby telling him they needed to go make sure other employees knew, as well.  

11:52 a.m. ET, December 12, 2021

Kentucky governor confirms 3 and 5-year-old are among victims of weekend storm

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

The governor of Kentucky confirmed a 3-year-old and 5-year-old are among the victims of this weekend’s deadly storms.

“I know we’ve lost a number of kids," Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday on CBS “Face the Nation." “This tornado didn’t discriminate. Anybody in its path, even if they were trying to be safe, again, just like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”

Beshear said the 3-year-old lived in Graves County and the five-year-old in Muhlenberg County.

The state has opened its state parks as well as 11 shelters to impacted residents. The governor said only six shelters remain open as Kentuckians house family and strangers, in some cases. 

Beshear reiterated the storm caused “massive damage” and “devastation like none of us have ever seen before.” 

“When this tornado hit, it didn’t just rip off a roof. It obliterated houses, just totally gone,” he said.

Beshear said a fund has been set up for impacted residents in the western part of the state as rebuilding efforts commence.

11:45 a.m. ET, December 12, 2021

Amazon employees were given an 11-minute warning before tornado ripped through warehouse

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

Recovery operations continue on Sunday, December 12, after the partial collapse of an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville, Illinois.
Recovery operations continue on Sunday, December 12, after the partial collapse of an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville, Illinois. (Tim Vizer/AFP/Getty Images)

A tornado warning siren sounded 11 minutes prior to a powerful storm ripping through an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Friday, according to a company representative. 

“Managers were on the loudspeakers telling people to get to the shelter-in-place area. They were also being guided by other managers and other employees who were trying to get everybody to that safe location,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told CNN affiliate KSDK Sunday morning.

She said employees sheltered in two different unspecified safe areas.

Nantel said dispatchers also contacted Amazon delivery drivers in the area as well and told them to shelter-in-place.

Six people were killed at the facility as a result of the tornado, CNN previously reported.

The company is donating one million dollars to a local foundation for recovery efforts in the local community, Nantel said.

“It’s really important to us as a company that we take care of not just our employees but our employees who lost their loved ones in this tragic event – their families as well as the community as a whole,” Nantel said.

Nantel said the company is working with both employees and the families who lost loved ones, “because we want to understand what they need as well.”


11:37 a.m. ET, December 12, 2021

Arkansas governor says it's "a miracle" only one nursing home resident died from the storms

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

This Saturday, December 11 satellite photo provided by Maxar shows a close-up view of Monette Manor Nursing Home and other homes after a tornado caused heavy damage in the area, in Monette, Arkansas.
This Saturday, December 11 satellite photo provided by Maxar shows a close-up view of Monette Manor Nursing Home and other homes after a tornado caused heavy damage in the area, in Monette, Arkansas. (©2021 Maxar Technologies/AP)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the fact that only one person died after a tornado devastated a Monette nursing home, “a miracle.”

“As I went to that facility, it was like heaven sucked up the roof and all the contents of it. And it’s just a miracle with 67 residents that we only lost one there. And that’s because of the heroic efforts by the staff and also the fact that we had 20 minutes of warning,” Hutchinson told CNN.

A tornado siren sounding 20 minutes before the storm hit allowed staff at the nursing homes to move residents into the hallways, he said.

“Preparation makes a big difference. The investments in those early warning systems saved a lot of lives in this instance,” the governor told Jake Tapper Sunday morning.

The death toll remains at two in the state after one person was killed in Monette at the nursing home and one in Leachville after a store was struck in deadly fashion, the governor previously said.

Hutchinson said he flew over portions of the state devastated by the weekend’s powerful storms and described “swaths of houses” that were leveled.

“As you fly over some of the communities that are impacted, there’s swaths of houses that are destroyed, people are displaced,” he said. 

Asked if the state of Arkansas is getting what it needs resource-wise from the federal government, Hutchinson said, “We are.”


10:32 a.m. ET, December 12, 2021

FEMA chief says powerful storms are the "new normal" in era of climate change

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Allie Malloy


Powerful storms like the ones that tore through parts of the central United States this weekend are the "new normal" in an era of climate change, the top federal emergency management official said on Sunday.

Deanne Criswell, the FEMA administrator, said her agency was prepared to bolster resilience in the face of more severe weather.

"This is going to be our new normal," Criswell told CNN on Sunday.

"The effects we are seeing of climate change are the crisis of our generation," Criswell said. "We’re taking a lot of efforts at FEMA to work with communities to help reduce the impacts that we’re seeing from these severe weather events and help to develop systemwide projects that can help protect communities."

She said the severity, duration and magnitude of the storms this late in the year were "unprecedented."

A day earlier, President Biden said it was too early to know the specific effect climate change had on this week's storms. He said he would ask his Environmental Protection Agency to assess.

Scientific research on the role that climate change is playing in the formation and intensity of tornadoes is not as robust as for other types of extreme weather like droughts, floods and even hurricanes. The short and small scale of tornadoes, along with an extremely spotty and unreliable historical record for them, makes relationships to long-term, human-caused climate change very difficult.

While establishing connections between climate change and tornadoes is difficult, the correlation between El Niño/La Niña and tornadoes is strong. La Niña seasons tend to have increased tornado activity in the US, and it is worth noting that the US is currently experiencing La Niña, which is expected to last into spring of next year.

Criswell was speaking ahead of a scheduled visit to Kentucky to assess damage from a string of powerful storms that swept across a wide swath of the Midwest and South. She will travel alongside the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Criswell said the operation on the ground remains a rescue mission.

"I think there is still hope, right? We sent one of our federal urban search and rescue teams down to Kentucky. They arrived yesterday. They'll be able to assist the localities with their ongoing rescue efforts. I think there is still hope and we should continue to try to find as many people as we can," she said.

She listed housing, both short-term and long-term shelter, as a priority for the agency.

On ABC’s This Week, Criswell said she didn’t know whether Biden would visit Kentucky, noting she would give him updates on what she sees on the ground.

9:46 a.m. ET, December 12, 2021

Kentucky governor predicts death toll from weekend storms will exceed 100 in the state

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos

An aerial view of homes and business destroyed in Mayfield, Kentucky.
An aerial view of homes and business destroyed in Mayfield, Kentucky. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The governor of Kentucky said Sunday he expects the death toll from the weekend’s devastating storms to exceed 100 in his state. 

“This is the deadliest tornado that we have had. I think it is going to be the longest and deadliest tornado event in US history,” Gov. Andy Beshear told CNN Sunday, adding that one tornado was on ground over 227 miles, 200 of which were in Kentucky.

When asked about how many Kentuckians are unaccounted for, Beshear did not provide a number but said in Dawson Springs alone, the list of the missing is eight pages long, single-spaced.

“I’ve got towns that are gone – that are just, I mean, gone,” he told Jake Tapper Sunday morning. “I mean you go door-to-door to check on people and see if they’re okay. There are no doors. The question is, is there somebody in the rubble of thousands upon thousands of structures. I mean, it’s devastating.”

Beshear said rescue efforts are going well with federal and local partners pouring in to help comb through “the massive, widespread damage.”

The governor said he plans to visit the collapsed candle factory in Mayfield but said “it will be a miracle if we pull anybody out of that.” 

The governor said he has heard the facility did have an emergency plan in place.

“They did have a plan inside the facility and most of the workers got to what was supposed to be safest place. But when you see the damage that this storm did not just there, but across the area, I’m not sure there was a plan that would have worked,” he said.