Kentucky tornadoes slashed through the state Friday night. The following morning, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that the horrific outbreak in the western part of the state has killed at least 50, and that the death toll may reach between 75 and 100. Beshear called it “one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history.” 

Gov. Andy Beshear has written to President Biden, “I request that you declare an emergency disaster for the Commonwealth of Kentucky in response to a severe weather system that has produced numerous tornadoes.”

Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky Emergency Management, called the night’s damage “a significant massive disaster event.”

The weather system struck parts of six states overnight. Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Illinois all suffered. For example, at least 20 people were trapped within a collapsed nursing home in Monette, Ark. in Craighead County. An Amazon Distribution Center in Evansville, Illinois suffered structural damage, and two workers there died.

But Kentucky may have been the hardest hit.

The emergency weather system produced at least four tornadoes in Kentucky alone. One of these tore an extraordinary path though the state of more than 200 miles. As a consequence, power outages are widespread. Many critical facilities must rely on their emergency power systems. The Kentucky National Guard has deployed 181 guardsmen for search, extraction and debris clearance.

In the press conference, Gov. Andy Beshear asked Kentucky residents to stay off the roads while emergency crews continue their work.

A candle factory in Mayfield was one of the many structures destroyed by the Kentucky tornadoes. Gov. Andy Beshear said that there were about 110 people in that factory when a tornado hit it. Kentucky State Police Trooper Sarah Burgess said that search and rescue crews are still going through the rubble.

Coroners have been called to candle factory and bodies have been recovered, but Burgess didn’t know how many.

One candle factory employee who has been rescued successfully is Kyana Parsons-Perez. She was trapped under five feet of debris until rescuers managed to get to her.

Parsons-Perez gave an interview to the Today show. “It was extremely scary. Everything happened so fast,” she said.

By mid-morning. Gov. Andy Beshear was touring the affected counties. He said at 10 a.m. that he expected a federal disaster declaration “within one hour.”

“We have pledged full support and the Department of Homeland Security and the federal government has as well,” the governor said, speaking from Mayfield, in Grant County. “This will be, I believe, the deadliest tornado system to ever run through Kentucky.”

The Kentucky tornadoes are being compared to the “Super Outbreak” event of 1974. From April 3 to 4 of that year there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 states and in Canada. Kentucky’s share of the Super Outbreak caused 71 confirmed deaths. Most of the deaths occurred in Meade County, which was hit by an F5 tornado.

The recovery from this disaster could be a severe test of Beshear’s leadership. Leadership in response to extreme weather events often has political consequences. Gov. Andy Beshear won the Governor’s office in 2019 won by 0.37 percentage points, getting 49.20% of the vote to his opponent’s 48.83%.

Friday night’s storm has displaced many residents, creating a need for emergency shelters. For example, the displaced of Bowling Green, a city of more than 67,000 have been directed to a shelter at South Warren High School.

Breckenridge County announced overnight that it was opening shelters in the state park in McDaniels, the old courthouse in Hardinsburg, Irvington Baptist Church, Cloverport Firehouse, and Rough River State Park. Likewise, Nelson County announced that shelters are available for its residents in Bardstown.

There is a non-emergency dispatch number for residents in need of shelter: 502-348-3211