US races to find tornado survivors
Death toll at 94, authorities expect figure to rise
Published: Dec 13, 2021 05:03 PM
Photo taken on Dec. 11, 2021 shows a heap of rubble after tornadoes in Mayfield, Kentucky, the United States.Photo:Xinhua

Photo taken on Dec. 11, 2021 shows a heap of rubble after tornadoes in Mayfield, Kentucky, the United States.Photo:Xinhua

US emergency workers searched Sunday for survivors of ferocious tornadoes that killed dozens of people across several states and left towns in ruins, but the governor of hard-hit Kentucky warned that cadaver dogs were still finding bodies.

President Joe Biden called the rare late-season burst of twisters in the US heartland "one of the largest" storm outbreaks in American history, and both federal and local officials cautioned the death toll caused by the disaster, for now at 94, could still rise.

The Democratic president sent the heads of the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to Kentucky to assess the situation, and promised the full gamut of federal aid.

Indeed, local authorities were starting to get aid to stunned residents sifting through the rubble of their homes and businesses - but the devastation was intense. 

"The very first thing that we have to do is grieve together and we're going to do that before we rebuild together," Kentucky's Governor Andy Beshear told an afternoon news conference.

More than 80 people are dead in the state alone, many of them workers at a candle factory in the ravaged town of Mayfield, Beshear said Sunday, telling CNN: "That number is going to exceed more than 100." 

Later in the day, the governor said the factory's owner believed more of the workers had been located, and it would be "pretty wonderful" if the toll were to be revised down, but stressed he could not verify that information.

At least six people died in an Amazon warehouse in the southern Illinois city of Edwardsville, where they were on the night shift processing orders ahead of Christmas.

Emergency crews worked through the night into Sunday at both locations, and FEMA agents and Red Cross volunteers were on the scene in Kentucky.

But Edwardsville fire chief James Whiteford told reporters the operation had turned from rescue to focus "only on recovery," fueling fears the toll will rise.

Four were killed in Tennessee and two died in Arkansas, while Missouri recorded two fatalities. Tornadoes also touched down in Mississippi.

Emergency crews were helping stunned citizens across the US heartland clear out the rubble of their homes and businesses.