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At least 50 dead as tornadoes devastate Kentucky; Amazon warehouse collapses in Illinois

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A devastating tornado outbreak in western Kentucky has claimed the lives of at least 50 people, according to Gov. Andy Beshear.

The total could reach 75 to 100 people, he added, calling it "one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history."

"Dozens" were killed at a candle factory in Mayfield, where 110 people were working when the storm hit Friday night, Beshear said.

One tornado was on the ground for 200 miles, he said, devastating towns like Mayfield and Princeton late Friday. At least four tornadoes tore through western Kentucky.

Beshear has activated the National Guard with 181 guardsmen deployed for search and rescue and recovery operations.

"We will make it through this, we will rebuild," Beshear said at a 4 a.m. press conference. "We are strong, resilient people, and we will be there every step of the way."

In southern Illinois, in Edwardsville, an Amazon distribution warehouse was hit by an apparent tornado, causing massive damage to the facility, officials said. Officials there confirmed at least two fatalities, but called the search and rescue operations still ongoing. Several dozen workers were able to escape from the building on their own, Edwardsville Police Chief Michael Fillback said Saturday morning.

There were at least 18 reported tornadoes across four states: Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri.

Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky's Division of Emergency Management, compared the storms to the April 1974 outbreak that spawned hundreds of tornadoes across several states and killed more than 30 in Kentucky alone.

"Rescues and search efforts are ongoing, even before the wind stopped blowing, crews were out working," Dossett said Saturday morning.

Beshear declared a state of emergency and has already submitted a request for a federal emergency declaration.

In Madisonville, Kentucky, a train derailment was caused by the storms, though there were no reported injuries. The freight train was carrying hazardous materials, Beshear wrote in his letter asking for a federal emergency declaration.

The storms began to cause tornadoes in the early evening hours west of Kentucky.

Shortly before 7 p.m. local time, a "large and extremely dangerous tornado" was confirmed near Jonesboro, Arkansas, moving northeast at 60 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

A tornado near Hornersville, Missouri, was on the ground at about 8 p.m. local time.

Tornadoes were also confirmed on the ground in Mayfield, Kentucky, at about 9:30 p.m. local time and in Princeton, Kentucky, just after 10 p.m. local time.

In Monette, Arkansas, one person was killed at a nursing home when a suspected tornado moved through Friday night, Craighead County, Arkansas, Judge Marvin Day told Jonesboro ABC affiliate KAIT. Authorities had initially said two people were killed. Five others suffered serious injuries.

Beshear said despite a COVID-19 surge in Kentucky, hospitals were in good shape.

ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway, Matt Foster and Hope Osemwenkhae contributed to this report.

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