Kentucky governor declares state of emergency after deadly tornado, asks Biden for assistance

People search through a tornado-damaged building on December 11, 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Brett Carlsen | Getty Images

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency early Saturday morning and asked President Joe Biden for federal assistance after a deadly storm swept through the Bluegrass State overnight.

“It’s devastating,” Beshear said during a news conference, adding that he had activated the National Guard in Kentucky. More than 180 guardsmen have deployed to areas in Western Kentucky, the hardest-hit section of the state.

Beshear said early estimates have placed the death toll in Kentucky at 50 but said that it could likely rise “significantly north of that.” He advised residents who are safe to avoid areas and roads where crews are assisting with emergency operations.

An outbreak of at least 30 tornadoes left a wide swath of destruction. One twister ripped through four states carving out at least a 220-mile path, ranking it among the longest tornadoes in U.S. history if it remained on the ground.

Beshear said the tornado that slammed through Western Kentucky struck the city Mayfield before moving northeast through Benton, Princeton, Beaver Dam and tapering off in towns in Breckinridge County. The governor said that more than 100 people were working at a candle manufacturing plant in Mayfield during the storm. The facility was leveled and is believed to be the site of “mass casualties.”

Bowling Green, the home of Western Kentucky University, also saw extensive damage and canceled commencement ceremonies scheduled for Saturday.

“Significant tornado damage in the area is affecting WKU networks and phone lines. WKU is in contact with all residential staff and there are no reported injuries on campus,” the university wrote in a statement.

President Biden was briefed on the storms and said in a statement Saturday morning that he was “in touch with state and local officials as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement following the devastating tornadoes in his home state.

“I am praying for the lives lost and communities impacted by the tornado devastation throughout the Commonwealth. Thank you to the first responders and the National Guard for their brave efforts amid this tragedy,” McConnell wrote on Saturday.

“As I continue to get reports from my staff, local and state officials, we will work with the entire Kentucky federal delegation to support Governor Andy Beshear’s request for federal assistance in order to aid these hard-hit communities with the funding and resources they need to rebuild,” he added.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul issued a separate statement on Saturday saying this his team is working with local and state officials.

“Our hearts are broken for all those suffering from last night’s terrible storms. I and my team will do all we can to assist local and state officials as they lead the immediate response, and will aggressively help families, businesses, and officials access recovery resources,” Paul wrote.

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