UPDATE: Death toll from Kentucky tornadoes remains unclear amid conflicting reports
The death toll from catastrophic tornadoes that swept through western Kentucky this weekend remains unclear, Gov. Andy Beshear said in an update Sunday afternoon.
Beshear told NPR on Sunday morning that the number of victims was “already above 80, likely over 100.” But he walked back that figure in his afternoon news conference.
Though Beshear did not provide an exact confirmed number of deaths, he told reporters that there are at least 50 victims so far.
“We know that we are going to have at least four counties [with death tolls] that are in double digits,” Beshear said. “Again, I think the best that we can hope for would be the 50. But I think it’s going to be significantly worse than that. Remember, we’re still finding bodies.”
Beshear said it’s still early in the rescue and recovery process, and death toll assessments have fluctuated as more information is gathered.
Initial reports said 110 people were trapped in a candle factory near Mayfield that collapsed during the tornado. Only 40 had been rescued as of Sunday.
But on Sunday evening, a spokesperson for the company claimed most employees had been located alive. The state has not verified the claim, but Beshear said “it may be a better situation and the miracle we’re hoping for.”
“They’re still trying to make contact with different individuals to determine exactly how bad it is,” he said. “I am praying that, maybe, original estimates of those we’ve lost were wrong. If so, it’s going to be pretty wonderful. But it’s way too early.”
Beshear said in an NPR interview Sunday morning that the state will likely see over 100 deaths in what he described as “the worst tornado event we’ve ever seen.” WFPL is working to confirm the number of deaths in each county.
In an interview with CBS News Correspondent Margaret Brennan, Beshear confirmed that Kentucky has lost “a number of kids,” including a 5-month-old and 5-year-old in Muhlenberg County and a 3-year-old in Graves County.
“This tornado didn’t discriminate,” Beshear said. “Anybody in its path, even if they were trying to be safe. Just like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”
In Warren County, home to Bowling Green, coroner Kevin Kirby confirmed 12 storm-related fatalities as of Sunday morning, up from 11 Saturday. He said they are working alongside the FBI and local police departments to identify the bodies and locate their families. They had not received any new calls from search and rescue Sunday afternoon.
“We’re praying that we don’t get any calls today,” Kirby said. “Our community has been through a lot.”
First responders confirmed that another 12 people are confirmed dead in Muhlenberg County, victims ranging from 5 months to more than 70 years old.
Coroner Dewayne Trafford said Saturday that at least 4 people were dead in Caldwell County, including a husband and wife. No additional updates were provided Sunday.
The Graves County Coroner’s Office had not confirmed the number of storm-related deaths Sunday afternoon.
According to the National Weather Service, the “quad-state tornado” carved a 250-mile path through Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky and could rank as the longest-track tornado in U.S. history.