At least 50 likely dead in Kentucky alone, governor says, after tornadoes hit central and southern US

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By Jason Hanna, Travis Caldwell and Andy Rose, CNN

    (CNN) -- Storms unleashed devastating tornadoes late Friday and early Saturday across parts of the central and southern US including Kentucky, where the governor says the death toll will exceed 50 after "one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history."

More than 30 tornadoes have been reported in at least six states. A stretch of more than 200 miles from Arkansas to Kentucky might have been hit by one violent, long-track twister, CNN meteorologists say.

Among the most significant damage: Tornadoes or strong winds collapsed an occupied candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon warehouse in western Illinois, and a nursing home in Arkansas, killing people at each site and leaving responders scrambling to rescue others.

The extent of destruction will not be known fully for hours, but video emerging from those three states alone -- flattened buildings, overturned vehicles and workers scouring rubble for trapped people -- speak of breathtaking damage in some areas.

"We believe our death toll from this event will exceed 50 Kentuckians, probably end up closer to 70 to 100 lost lives," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said at a briefing Saturday morning.

"This will be one of the most significant, the most extensive disasters that Kentucky has faced," Kentucky emergency management director Michael Dossett said, adding this was "one of the darkest days in the state's history."

Tornadoes also have been reported in parts of Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi.

One of the most devastated sites is the southwestern Kentucky city of Mayfield, where a tornado hit a candle factory Friday night while about 110 people were inside, Beshear said.

"We believe we'll lose at least dozens of those individuals," the governor said.

Video from Mayfield showed what remained of the factory: a massive debris field, largely of twisted metal, several feet high.

First responders have pulled "many, many" people out of the rubble, some alive and some apparently dead, storm chaser Michael Gordon told CNN Saturday morning from the scene.

"It's kind of hard to talk about. ... They're digging in that rubble by hand right now," Gordon said.

Other buildings hit in Mayfield, a city of around 10,000 people, include the Graves County courthouse and adjoining jail.

"It's changed the landscape ... here in Mayfield," Kentucky State Police Lt. Dean Patterson said. "We're seeing (destruction) that none of us have ever seen before."

Severe thunderstorms still are possible Saturday from the northern Gulf states into the south-central Appalachians, the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center said. Tornado watches throughout the region were expected Saturday morning.


Deaths in Illinois and Arkansas, officials say


Deaths also have been reported in Illinois and Arkansas.

At the collapsed Amazon warehouse in the Illinois city of Edwardsville outside St. Louis, at least two people were killed, and rescue attempts were underway Saturday, Police Chief Mike Fillback said.

Rescues were going slowly because hanging debris was posing dangers to responders, Fillback said.

Dozens of people were able to escape without serious injury, Fillback said.

One resident told CNN affiliate KMOV that a family member and employee was trapped inside, and that others inside were remaining calm and working to get out of the warehouse. Video from the scene showed a large emergency response.

"It's devastating to see the amount of damage there and to know there were people inside when that happened," Fillback told KMOV on Saturday morning. Police did not know how many people were in the building at the time of the collapse, Fillback said, nor how many people still were trapped inside.

In the northeastern Arkansas city of Monette, at least one person was dead after a tornado damaged a nursing home Friday, trapping others inside before being rescued. At least 20 were also injured at the facility, Mayor Bob Blankenship told CNN.

Another person was killed in nearby Leachville, when a woman was "in a Dollar General store when the storm hit and they could not get out," Mississippi County Sheriff Dale Cook told CNN.

Also in Arkansas, Interstate 555 near the town of Trumann was closed because of overturned vehicles, Arkansas Emergency Management spokesperson LaTresha Woodruff said. State officials had been told the town's fire department, EMS facility and a nursing home were damaged, Woodruff said.

Those parts of Arkansas -- as well as Mayfield, Kentucky -- are in a path of more than 200 miles, including slices of Missouri and Tennessee, that might have been produced by one long-track tornado, CNN meteorologists said.

If it was one tornado, that 200-mile path would be the longest traveled of any since 1925.

A train derailed near Madisonville, Kentucky, early Saturday morning as weather moved through the area, according to a CSX spokeswoman. There are no reported injuries to the crew.

In the community of Samburg in northwest Tennessee, multiple structured were damaged, according to officials. The town "is pretty well flattened," Obion County Sheriff's Office dispatcher Judy Faulkner told CNN.

Along with multiple tornadoes, the storms produced dozens of wind and hail reports as of early Saturday.

More than 340,000 homes and businesses had lost power across seven states by 7:45 a.m. ET Saturday -- including more than 137,000 in Tennessee and more than 70,000 in Kentucky, according to poweroutage.us.

Setting off weather alerts Friday from Arkansas to Indiana, the severity of the storms is anticipated to diminish as Saturday continues, with the greatest threat during the early morning hours.

Much of the eastern US will be impacted by rain into Saturday evening. Isolated strong to severe thunderstorms may occur from the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys into the northern Gulf States, according to the Storm Prediction Center. Wind gusts, hail and an isolated tornado remain possible.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Kentucky emergency management Director Michael Dossett.

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