© Reuters. Aerial view of a candle factory after a tornado broke, in Mayfield, Kentucky, USA, on December 11, 2021, in this video taken from the video. Video taken by drone. Video by Michael Gordon / Storm Chasing via REUTERS
Author: Cheney Orr
MAYFIELD, Ky. (Reuters) – The day before Thanksgiving, Mayfield Consumer Products in western Kentucky posted photos of smiling employees standing in line at a buffet ready to enjoy a special pre-holiday meal in a factory canteen.
On Friday night, a candle factory where workers had celebrated two weeks earlier lay in ruins, razed to a devastating tornado during a late shift as more than 100 employees worked inside. The next morning 40 were rescued; many others were missing.
The tragedy happened because Mayfield Consumer Products, which describes itself as a local, family-owned manufacturer of candles, waxes and home fragrances, sought to expand its workforce by recently advertising new jobs on its website and Facebook (NASDAQ 🙂 page.
Search and rescue teams on Saturday combed the remains of a tornado-ravaged factory on the west side of Mayfield, a picturesque town near the mouths of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in the far southwest corner of Kentucky.
Mayfield, a community of about 10,000 residents in Graves County, turned the tornado into a landscape littered with damaged and demolished buildings, scattered debris, trees uprooted and stripped, distorted traffic signs and loose utility lines.
Among those allegedly missing in the destroyed factory was an employee identified by the family as Jill Monroe, 52, who was last heard of at 9:30 p.m., around the time the storm hit, according to her daughter Paige Tingle.
Available via Facebook on Saturday, Tingle told Reuters she drove four hours to the factory site in hopes of finding her mother, whose fate remains unknown.
“We don’t know what to think. We’re extremely nervous. We don’t know how to feel, we’re just trying to find her,” Tingle said. “It’s a disaster here. My thoughts go to everyone.”
One surviving employee said she was trapped in the rubble about two hours before rescuers helped free her.
“It was absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Kyanna Parsons-Perez said in an interview aired on NBC’s Today show. “I didn’t think I’d make it.”
Parsons-Perez said he saw the lights in the building flicker and felt a sudden gust of wind through the factory when he hit the twister, “and my ears somehow started popping as if they were on a plane.”
The building then swayed back and forth, “and boom, it all came crashing down on us, and all you heard was screams,” she said. The company employs an ethnically and racially diverse workforce, including many Latin American workers, “and you could hear people screaming and praying in Spanish,” she recalled.
Parsons-Perez also said a group of inmates from nearby Graves County Jail was among those rushing to help the captured workers. “They could have used that moment to escape or anything, but they didn’t. They were there to help us,” she said.
Her testimony about the prisoners who assisted in the rescue could not be verified immediately, and it was not clear how and why the inmates at the local jail ended up being released from custody after the storm.
Addressing a news conference Saturday, Mayfield Fire Chief Jeremy Creason said the factory site was a “priority one” for his emergency teams, adding that “most of our assets are currently located there.”
No direct casualty estimates were available for the factory or surrounding community, one of the hardest hit areas by a storm that carved a 200-mile long road of destruction through several counties on Friday night. But Gov. Andy Beshear said he was sure at least 70 people had been killed across Kentucky.
About 110 people are believed to have been at the candle factory when he razed it to the ground, and 40 people were rescued late Saturday morning, Beshear told reporters at a news conference.
A Graves County coroner later told CNN that 40 people remained missing at the factory. (This story has been modified to correct the spelling of the factory worker in the tenth paragraph)