Over 80 Dead in Kentucky After State’s ‘Deadliest Tornado Event,’ Death Toll Likely to Exceed 100

Rubble litters the town after a tornado ripped through Friday evening on December 12, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes touched down in several Midwest states late Friday evening causing widespread destruction and leaving an estimated 70-plus people dead.
CREDIT: BRETT CARLSEN/GETTY

“I think it’s going to be the longest and deadliest tornado event in U.S. history,” said Governor Andy Beshear on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday

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Over 80 people have been confirmed dead in Kentucky after the “deadliest tornado event” in the Commonwealth’s history, according to Governor Andy Beshear.

Beshear, 44, said the death toll is expected to “exceed” 100 people during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, noting that the confirmation process has been “slow.”

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“This is the deadliest tornado event we have ever had,” Beshear told host Jake Tapper on Sunday. “I think it’s going to be the longest and deadliest tornado event in U.S. history.”

Beshear confirmed that one of the tornadoes was on the ground for at least 227 miles, 200 of which were in Kentucky.

“I’ve got towns that are just gone,” Beshear explained. He says half of his father’s hometown “isn’t standing.”

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The devastation, the governor added, is difficult to put in words. “I know people can see the visuals, but that goes on for 12 blocks or more in some of these places. And it’s going to take us time.”

He added, “[Do] you think you can go door to door to check on people and see if they’re okay? There are no doors! The question is, is there somebody in the rubble of thousands upon thousands of structures. I mean, it is devastating.”

In Dawson Springs, where Beshear’s family hails from, a recent list of individuals unaccounted for was eight pages long, per the governor. The town is home to just 2,700 people.

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General view of the heavily tornado damaged courthouse on December 11, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes tore through parts of the lower Midwest late on Friday night leaving a large path of destruction and unknown fatalities.
CREDIT: BRETT CARLSEN/GETTY

On Saturday, the governor declared a state of emergency and activated 181 guardsmen from the National Guard in response to Friday’s devastation. He later tweeted an image of a letter he sent to President Joe Biden requesting “an immediate federal emergency declaration” for what he called “one of the toughest nights in Kentucky’s history.”

Biden, 79, said in a Twitter statement that his administration is “working with Governors to ensure they have what they need as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue” in each state impacted by the storms.

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Interior view of tornado damage to Emmanuel Baptist Church on December 11, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes tore through parts of the lower Midwest late on Friday night, leaving a large path of destruction.
CREDIT: BRETT CARLSEN/GETTY

“We do have a lot of help,” Beshear told Tapper on Sunday. “We have an amazing state of good people that have come in from other cities and towns where they weren’t hit. And so, we have a lot of assistance that come in from other states, certainly federal partners like ATF, federal coast guard, and others are also helping.”

Beshear says he has visited Mayfield, “the area that was hit the hardest” in the state, and will return again on Sunday. About 110 Kentuckians, mostly residents of Mayfield, were inside a candle factory when it was struck by the tornado. Only 40 have reportedly been rescued.

Heavy damage is seen downtown after a tornado swept through the area on December 11, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes tore through parts of the lower Midwest late on Friday night leaving a large path of destruction and unknown fatalities.
Damage from the tornadoes in Kentucky
| CREDIT: BRETT CARLSEN/GETTY

“I’m not sure that we’re going to see another rescue. I pray for it. It would be an incredibly welcome miracle. But I think it’s been since 3:30 yesterday morning that we found a live person,” he shared.

“It’ll be a miracle if we can pull anybody else out of that,” Beshear said, noting there is 15 feet of “steel and cars” sitting where the roof once was.

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