Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Tornadoes cause destruction, loss of life across Midwestern US

MONDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2021 AS OF 5:00 PM EST

At least four tornadoes swarmed over a 200-mile section of the United States (US) Midwest and South on Friday, December 10, demolishing buildings and homes — leaving at least 74 people dead with over 100 more still missing, according to Reuters. Kentucky.gov reported one tornado was on the ground for over 200 miles in the state alone, while more than 1,000 homes were destroyed or damaged. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center operations chief Bill Bunting told The New York Times that the tornadoes moved across parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. The Washington Post reported at least 105 individuals are still missing, with victims ranging in age from five months to 86 years, with most deaths reported in Graves County.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear confirmed at least 64 fatalities across the commonwealth in a press conference, on Monday, December 13, stating that it may be weeks before the total number of fatalities are revealed. Governor Beshear stated at least 18 counties experienced damage from the storm, with deaths reported in at least eight counties. “We’re now on Day 3 of responding to the worst tornado event in the history of our commonwealth,” Beshear said. AP News reported fatalities for eight workers at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, with another eight individuals currently missing after a tornado tore through the region on Friday, December 10. 

Governor Andy Beshear: Twitter

As of 12:00 Central Daylight Time (CDT), Monday December 13, there are over 26,000 power outages in Kentucky, according to PowerOutage.US. The Washington Post added that a water tower in Mayfield, Kentucky was destroyed, and the electric grid and natural gas is still turned off in the area as of the morning of Monday, December 13 due to the risk of leaks. At least 300 National Guard members have been deployed to the commonwealth, according to The New York Times.

In a morning press conference on Monday, December 13, Michael Dosset, Director of Kentucky Emergency Management (KYEM), announced that the Commonwealth’s Emergency Operations Center (CEOC) is at Emergency Level 3, with staff at all levels of command and control ready for action following review and monitoring. Level 3, out of a possible five levels in total, reflects activation of emergency support functions (ESF) representatives and has a significant impact on KYEM Frankfort Staff. The incident is of an extended duration and is managed through three or more operational periods. According to the KYEM CEOC, this means that personnel are engaged and that the event could be raised to a Level 5 if it is deemed catastrophic and federal personnel are engaged over “a period of indeterminate operational periods.” There is the potential for this tornadic event to become a Level 4 or 5 if emergency personnel are continually engaged, if federal representatives are deployed, and if incident management teams (IMTs) become activated.

In the press conference, Dosset noted that National Guard and Kentucky officials have been asked to assist in bulk deliveries of water and other non-perishable goods to survivors residing in emergency temporary housing facilities. Federal funding and resources were made available to Kentucky after President Biden approved a federal disaster declaration on Saturday, December 11, just hours after the commonwealth requested assistance. After the initial declaration, President Biden announced a major disaster declaration for the following counties across the commonwealth: Caldwell, Fulton, Graves, Hopkins, Marshall, Muhlenberg, Taylor, and Warren. The disaster declaration allows residents of those eight counties to access greater funding resources that can assist in securing temporary housing, home repairs, rental assistance, medical costs, and funeral assistance for those who lost family in the disaster. On Sunday, December 12, President Biden relayed that he would be visiting Kentucky in the coming days to offer support but wanted to wait until he could do so without siphoning necessary resources from ongoing response and recovery efforts. 

Governor Beshear marked relief efforts by establishing Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund to manage donations. All donations made to the organization will go to supporting emergency housing, food, and supplies needs for families seeking assistance. The fund has received over 30,000 donations, totalling over $4 million, and counting as of the morning on December 13.

Cars line the streets of Bowling Green, Kentucky to make donations: Twitter

In Edwardsville, Illinois, officials stated at least six individuals were killed in an Amazon warehouse on the night of Friday, December 10, when a tornado caused two of the building’s concrete walls to collapse. Approximately 150 yards of the building collapsed after the tornado touched down. Edwardsville, Illinois Fire Chief James Whiteford said at a press conference on Saturday, December 11, that they have transitioned to search and recovery and that the search will continue for the next three days during daylight hours. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker urged Amazon to “provide every assistance to this community, which they have said they intend to do.”

Tens of thousands of homes remain without power as of December 13, and at least four people from the tornado-affected counties in northwestern and middle Tennessee lost their lives on Saturday, December 11. NOAA NWS confirmed at least seven tornadoes, ranging from EF0 to EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale of Tornado Intensity, touched down early Saturday morning. The EF Scale classifies tornadoes based on estimated wind speed and damage from EF0, weak, to EF5, violent. An EF Scale has wind speeds from 65 to 85 miles per hour (mph), an EF1 has wind speeds from 86 to 110 mph, an EF2 has wind speeds of 111-135 mph, an F3 has wind speeds of 136 to 165 mph, an EF4 has wind speeds of 166 to 200 mph, and an F5 has wind speeds of over 200 mph. 

There was one confirmed fatality in Defiance, Missouri, and two others were injured after a tornado touched down on Friday, December 10, around 8 p.m. The extent of the destruction has not yet been determined, but emergency crews were able to clear the nearby highway by the morning of December 11. In Monette, Arkansas, the same series of tornadoes touched down before continuing on to Kentucky destroying a nursing home, leaving two fatalities. After touring the nursing home, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said “Probably the most remarkable thing is that there’s not a greater loss of life.” 

Tornado Sheltering Guidelines: NOAA NWS

TORNADO PREPAREDNESS AND SAFETY

As evidenced by the recent series of catastrophic tornado events across parts of the central and southern US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warns the public that tornadoes can occur anywhere and at any time and encourages individuals to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against these violent storms. An essential preparedness measure is to sign up in advance for your community’s emergency alerts and warnings and to pay close attention to local weather reports for real-time conditions. Furthermore, it is important to identify at least one safe room or other shelter location that everyone in your residence or business has practiced accessing and ensure that non-perishable food, water, and medical supplies are fully stocked in the shelter location or in a pre-assembled, easy to access emergency kit.

When a Tornado Warning is issued, officials have detected a tornado nearby and steps must be taken to protect life and property. When you receive a Tornado Warning, go directly to your pre-identified safe location with your emergency supplies and stay in place until authorities provide an all clear. If the conditions prevent you from reaching the designated shelter location, the next best option is to seek an interior room (away from windows and doors) or basement level room and hide under furniture or cover your body with blankets. If possible, monitor emergency alerts and notifications for updated information. When notified that it is safe to cease sheltering, exhibit caution when attempting to re-enter the damaged areas as they may present additional hazards like downed power lines, dangerous debris, and mold. 

The Hagerty Blog Team will continue providing information and updates on current events and disasters impacting the nation. Visit Disaster Discourse for the latest information.