Kentucky officials on Monday morning gave an update on the tornado, or possibly tornadoes, that wreaked havoc in the western part of the state Friday night and Saturday morning.
Dozens of people were confirmed dead across multiple states including Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee, but western Kentucky bore the worst of the storm's damage. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) declared a state of emergency in the counties that were torn apart, and President Joe Biden has promised federal assistance in the area.
Beshear said that at least 64 people have been confirmed dead in the commonwealth, ranging from 2 months old to 86 years old, but that number is expected to rise.There are still 105 people unaccounted for in Kentucky, and at least 70 people are likely dead, he said. More than 1,000 properties were destroyed.
"But again, with this amount of damage and rubble, it will be a week or even more before we have a final count on the number of lost lives," Beshear said.
Of those confirmed dead, there are still 18 who have not been identified. Six of the dead are younger than 18. One of the youngest victims is 2-month-old Oaklynn Koon, who succumbed to her injuries Monday morning, her heartbroken parents, Douglas and Jackie, revealed in a Facebook post.
“At least I know who will be watching over you up there for me. My dad,” Douglas wrote in a post showing him holding his tiny daughter's hand. "God this doesn't seem real."
The governor announced that flags at government buildings will be flown at half-staff for a week, beginning Tuesday, and the state fund will pay for the funerals of those who have died.
The powerful, unseasonal storms tore through several states in the Midwest and South on Friday, destroying a candle factory in Kentucky, a nursing home in Arkansas, and an Amazon distribution center in Illinois, among many other buildings with people inside.
Rescue efforts are under way to find those missing. Beshear said Kentucky State Police are asking anyone trying to find a missing loved one to report to the office building of His House Ministries at 1250 KY 303 in Mayfield to give a reference to law enforcement for identification.
The governor said 94 of the 110 employees from the Mayfield Candle Factory are alive and accounted for. Eight employees have been confirmed dead, and eight more are still missing.
Federal Emergency Management Agency official Gracia Szczech told WOWK-TV that Biden has declared a major federal disaster in eight counties Kentucky, which will permit federal aid to flow to those counties. Szczech said that FEMA will work with Kentucky officials to assess other counties impacted by the storm and potentially have them added to the disaster declaration.
“What this means is that there is assistance for individuals, for homeowners, for renters. They need to apply for FEMA assistance. The administrator did say yesterday the first line of defense is insurance. Make sure if you have insurance you’ve already called them. We also encourage everyone to apply for FEMA assistance,” Szczech said.
Biden will travel to Kentucky on Wednesday, according to the White House.
The president is planning to visit Fort Campbell for a storm briefing and then will visit Mayfield and Dawson Springs, two of the towns hit hardest by the storms, to survey the damage.