Deadly tornadoes devastate parts of Kentucky and other states

By Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 9:31 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021
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10:56 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

"I'm not doing so well today," Kentucky governor gives an emotional speech after tornado devastation

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks during a press conference on Monday, December 13.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks during a press conference on Monday, December 13. (The Governor’s Office/YouTube)

After providing updates on the tornado devastation in Kentucky and the recovery efforts, Gov. Andy Beshear gave an emotional address to Kentuckians, saying "the country is standing with you."

"Like the folks in western Kentucky, I'm not doing so well today, and I'm not sure how many of us are," he said at a news conference on Monday.

"I was working to getting the confirmed deaths this morning and realized I was writing on the back of notes that one of my kids took from school ... It is notes on inertia. It means that an object that's in motion will stay in motion. So we're going to keep putting one foot in front of the other, push through this. Everybody out there get the help you need. Take care of yourself," he added.

He reassured people, saying he will continue to provide updates.

"To the people of western Kentucky, we're not going anywhere. We'll be with you today. We'll be with you tomorrow. And we're going to be there with you to rebuild ... I think everybody in Kentucky but also everybody in the country is standing with you."

10:12 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Kentucky governor orders flags at half-staff in honor of tornado victims

At a news conference Monday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered "flags to half-staff in honor of those lost and those suffering from this tornado."

"So all state office buildings will be lowered to half-staff for one week in honor of the Kentuckians who were killed and/or severely impacted. So they should be lowered beginning at sunrise Tuesday, Dec. 14, and remain so until sundown Monday, Dec. 20.

Beshear also asked businesses and other states to join in to honor victims and recognize the struggles of the survivors.

10:57 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Kentucky governor: At least 64 people confirmed dead — and the death toll will "undoubtedly" increase

From CNN's Mike Hayes

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks during a press conference on Monday, December 13.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks during a press conference on Monday, December 13. (The Governor’s Office/YouTube)

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said that, as of this morning, the confirmed number of dead in the state stands at 64 following the weekend tornado outbreak.

He said that "undoubtedly there will be more" deaths confirmed from the storms. He said he believed the death number will "certainly be above 70, maybe even 80." 

"Thousands of homes are damaged if not entirely destroyed. And it may be weeks before we have final counts on both deaths and levels of destruction," Beshear said.

He added that currently there are 105 Kentuckians that are unaccounted for.

The governor said that of the dead, 18 are still unidentified. The age range of those who died is 5 months to 86 years old, with six dead younger than 18.

Beshear said the death toll breaks down by county as follows: 20 in Graves, 13 in Hopkins, 11 in Muhlenberg, 12 in Warren, four in Caldwell, one in Marshall, one in Taylor, one in Fulton and one in Lyon.

The state received a Federal Declaration of Major Emergency Sunday in what the governor called “I think the fastest that has ever been issued – and we are really grateful.”

There are 300 National Guard assisting currently with hundreds of state employees working to clear roads after hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed across 18 counties, the governor said.  

9:59 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Here's a look at the areas without power following the deadly storm system

Parts of Kentucky and Tennessee are without power this morning following a weekend tornado outbreak.

At least 100 people are feared dead following the storm system. There were at least 50 tornado reports during the outbreak from late Friday into Saturday in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

Here's a look at where power outages are reported today, as communities continue clean up and recovery efforts:

10:03 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

State officials estimate 75% of this Kentucky town is gone

From CNN's Kelly McCleary, Jason Hanna, Elizabeth Joseph and Claudia Dominguez

Mike Castle hugs his daughter Nikki Castle on Saturday, December 11, after the tornado in Dawson Springs, Kentucky.
Mike Castle hugs his daughter Nikki Castle on Saturday, December 11, after the tornado in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. (Minh Connors/Courier&Press/USA Today Network)

People who had their lives ripped apart in mere moments by violent and unforgiving tornadoes over the weekend are now dealing with a new reality — seeking the basic needs of food and shelter while surrounded by devastation and uncertainty over the fate of their neighbors.

In the small town of Dawson Springs in western Kentucky, about 75% of the community was wiped out and replaced by "chaos," Mayor Chris Smiley said Sunday.

"It's the worst thing I've ever seen," said Smiley, who's lived in the town for 63 years. "It's just devastating."

The list of missing persons in Dawson Springs contains more than 100 names, a Hopkins County emergency official said Sunday, but they are hopeful most of those are people who left town but haven't checked in yet.

While rescue efforts continued Sunday, no survivors were pulled from the rubble, said Nick Bailey, the director of emergency management in Hopkins County.

The town's death toll rose to 13 Sunday, up from 10 Saturday, Hopkins County Coroner Dennis Mayfield said. The fatalities range in age from 34 to 86 and include two elderly sisters who lived together and a husband and wife.

More on the storms: The line of severe weather that moved through the central and southern US late Friday into Saturday left at least 100 people feared dead. The storms spawned at least 50 tornadoes reported across eight states, according to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.

In Kentucky, teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are on the ground, Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky Emergency Management, said. More than 300 National Guard troops are on duty across nine counties, according to Gov. Andy Beshear.

"The devastation is quite frankly something that you would see in a war zone. This is an event where we had commercial and residence properties literally stripped clean from the earth," Dossett told CNN Sunday.

The governor is set to give an update on search and relief efforts at 10 a.m. ET.

9:18 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

The American Red Cross set up 8 shelters in disaster-stricken Kentucky area

From CNN's Laura Studley

The American Red Cross has set up eight shelters in disaster-stricken areas in Kentucky providing relief to nearly 200 residents seeking shelter after tornadoes devastated parts of the state on Friday night, according to the nonprofit.

American Red Cross Kentucky CEO Steven Cunanan arrived to one of the worst hit cities in Mayfield early Saturday and said that a drive that should have taken him three hours, took him six.

"It was impassible, it was muddy, it was apocalyptic," Cunanan told CNN on Sunday. "It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I don’t know the words. I don’t know how to describe this. You're looking at the news at a 3-D disaster in 2-D and it just doesn't do it justice."

Cunanan said the Red Cross’ main goal is to provide food and care to individuals displaced by the tornado.

"We have to help them get their lives back and help them get to a sense of normalcy again," he noted.

But the Red Cross is still in the early stages of assessing the magnitude and scope of that goal, Cunanan said. He said that providing shelter is a short-term solution that enables the Red Cross to bridge the gap to something more sustainable.

"The emotional toll on something like this is pretty great," Cunanan said. "I've seen that on every disaster I've been on. They're shell shocked. They don't know where to turn."

Cunanan said that many people in Mayfield are not only grieving the loss of their homes, but also their town — an area with a population of approximately 10,000.  

"It is going to build back,” he said, “it's not going to be exactly the same, but it's going to be built back."

CNN's Kiely Westhoff contributed reporting to this post.

8:52 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

US Navy veteran killed during tornado at Amazon warehouse in Illinois

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy 

Recovery operations continue at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville, Illinois, on December 12.
Recovery operations continue at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville, Illinois, on December 12. (Tim Vizer/AFP/Getty Images) 

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.  

8:57 a.m. ET, December 13, 2021

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

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Allie Malloy

Deanne Criswell speaks with CNN.
Deanne Criswell speaks with CNN. (CNN)

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.