Amazon warehouse collapses with workers inside as deadly tornadoes rip through five US states

Kentucky governor has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard as storm causes significant damage

<p>First responders surround a damaged Amazon Distribution Center on 10 December 2021 in Edwardsville, Illinois</p>

First responders surround a damaged Amazon Distribution Center on 10 December 2021 in Edwardsville, Illinois

A major winter storm that began early on Friday has left a trail of destruction in the US as it ripped through five states, leading to the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in southern Illinois and multiple deaths reported across the country.

Fifty people are “likely” to have been killed in tornadoes that ripped through Kentucky, the Washington Post quoted governor Andy Beshear as saying. The governor had declared a state of emergency in the early hours of Saturday, activating the Kentucky National Guard and the Kentucky State Police. He said an update with emergency management officials would be given at 5am on Saturday to assess the damage.

At least three people died in severe weather in Tennessee, while one died and several were injured at an Arkansas nursing home. Missouri reported one fatality from the storms.

Emergency vehicles reached the Amazon fulfilment centre to begin rescue operations late on Friday night near Edwardsville, where a wall about the length of a football field collapsed, along with the roof above it.

Though the number of people injured in the incident was not immediately clear, at least one person was flown by helicopter to a hospital, reported the Associated Press. Earlier, the Emergency Management Agency of Collinsville, Illinois called it a “mass casualty incident” while one official told Fox News affiliate KTVI-TV that over 100 people were believed to be inside the building working the night shift at the time of the collapse.

Edwardsville police chief Mike Fillback said that those who were in the building were taken to the police station in Pontoon Beach for evaluation, as the rescue team still sifted through the rubble to determine whether anyone was trapped inside.

One woman outside, Sarah Bierman, said she was very worried about her husband, who works at the warehouse.

“I talked to him about eight o’clock tonight, a little before I texted him, and he was returning to the warehouse to drop his van off,” she was quoted as saying by Reuters.

“And I haven’t heard from him since, I just heard through the news and we live in Edwardsville; we lost power. So I decided to come down here to see what was going on, and I had no idea the building looked that bad. And I’m just; I’m worried sick.”

Illinois governor JB Pritzker tweeted: “My prayers are with the people of Edwardsville tonight, and I’ve reached out to the mayor to provide any needed state resources.

“Our [Illinois State Police] and [Ready Illinois] are both coordinating closely with local officials and I will continue to monitor the situation.”

“The safety and well-being of our employees and partners is our top priority right now,” Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement Friday night. “We’re assessing the situation and will share additional information when it’s available.”

While the storm is affecting a large area that forecasters said could stretch to as much as half the country, the first deadly incident was reported at Monette Manor, a nursing home in Monette, Arkansas.

At least one resident was killed and five seriously injured after a tornado ripped through the facility at about 8.15pm on Friday night, trapping around 20 people inside the collapsing building, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day told the Associated Press.

Though the building was cleared within 90 minutes of its collapse and everyone believed to have been inside the building at the time has been accounted for, Mr Day said the search is still on as the crew fear the possibility of additional victims inside the debris.

"It looks like it’s pretty much destroyed," Mr Day said of the building. "... It happens quick but apparently there was a little bit of time with tornado sirens going off." Some residents were found in the basement "and were prepared for this," he said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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