An Amazon factory worker, Larry Virden, one of those who died when a tornado struck and destroyed the Amazon warehouse in the Chicago area Friday night, had just texted his girlfriend that the company was not allowing him to leave the premises.
At 8:23 p.m., Virden was at the Edwardsville facility. He texted Cherie Jones, saying “Amazon won’t let me leave until after the storm blows over.”
The tornado touched down 16 minutes later, at 8:39. Larry Virden, 46, lived with Jones, and their children, in Collinsville. Jones told the New York Post Sunday that the drive from the warehouse to their home takes 13 minutes.
Jones told the Post that she does not fault Amazon for Larry Virden’s death. “But it’s that what-if situation,” she said. “What if they would have let him leave? He could have made it home.”
Cherie Jones messaged Larry Virden after that tweet, but did not hear from him again. “I told him where we live, it was only lightning at the time. After that, I got nothing from him.”
Amazon said that the management of the Edwardsville site was aware through various alerts of the possibility of a tornado strike, and they worked to get as many workers and partners as they could into a designated shelter area. Six of the Amazon factory workers there have thus far been confirmed dead. Workers were in the middle of a shift change when the tornado hit, and this has complicated efforts through the weekend to determine whether everybody has been accounted for.
Larry Virden, who had only worked for Amazon for five months, was a combat veteran of the U.S. Army Jones said, “He had a missile blow up in front of him like 200 yards away, so he was lucky.”
When Larry Virden was in Iraq, she said, he was aware of the possibility of death. “He made his peace with the Maker so he was prepared to die.” But with rising voice, Jones added, “we didn’t want him to die now.”
The death count across several states from the devastation on Dec. 10-11 continues to rise. Each death is, of course, a unique tragedy for the loved one’s of the deceased.
Jones shared with the Post reporters, Steven Vago and Patrick Reilly, her concerns about how their children would take the news.
“My oldest boy, he thinks that Daddy is going to come home, but now we have to tell him that Daddy’s not coming home. When my daughter came into the house, she was like, ‘Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy?’ And she started bawling because she knew something was wrong.”
Tornado’s are very rare in Illinois and Indiana, especially this late in the year, although in 1973 one did touch down in the Chicago warning area in 1973, in Iroquois County (on the Illinois side of the Indiana border).
Officials with the National Weather Service say that on Friday, a tornado touched down Cedar Lake, 45 miles southeast of Chicago on the Indiana side of the border. It stayed on the ground for five minutes, then lifted off again, into the clouds, they said.
Tornadoes are generally a warmer-weather event, rare in December, and rarer the further north one travels. In Cedar Lake, the average high temperature is 42 as December begins, and falling to 33 at month’s end. Friday was an unusually warm day, with a high close to 58.
As with other extreme weather events in recent months, the devastating burst of tornadoes in the industrial Midwest Friday is bound to feed into ongoing discussions about climate change.