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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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.