Rescue crews comb through wreckage after tornadoes rip through central US

A family digs through the remains of their apartment in Mayfield, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.

 Rescuers combed through debris left after tornadoes ripped through the central United States.

The severe weather left scores of people dead, flattening homes and workplaces.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at least 70 people were feared dead when a twister touched down for more than 320 kilometres in his state.

If early reports are confirmed, the twister “will likely go down perhaps as one of the longest track violent tornadoes in United States history,” said Victor Genzini, a researcher on extreme weather at Northern Illinois University.

The current death toll of 36 across five states includes 22 people in Kentucky, six people in Illinois, where an Amazon facility was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed; and two in Missouri.

Emergency response workers dig through the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.

The wreckage included destroyed buildings, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles. Windows and roofs were blown off the buildings that were still standing.

In Mayfield, a candle factory where 110 people were working overnight was flattened. Forty of them were rescued.

“We had to, at times, crawl over casualties to get to live victims,” said Jeremy Creason, the city’s fire chief and EMS director.

Kyanna Parsons-Perez, an employee at the candle factory, told NBC that it was "absolutely the most terrifying" event she had ever experienced. “I did not think I was going to make it at all."

Just before the tornado struck, the building’s lights flickered. She felt a gust of wind, her ears started popping and then, “Boom. Everything came down on us.” People started screaming, and she heard other workers praying.

US President Joe Biden pledged to help the affected states: "I promise you, whatever is needed, whatever is needed, the federal government is going to find a way to provide it," Biden said.

Storm deaths across the central United States

A car sits in the debris caused by a tornado in Bowling Green, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021

In Illinois, at least six people were killed when an Amazon warehouse collapsed. Another 45 people survived but authorities were not sure if anyone was still unaccounted for.

"This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners," Amazon spokesperson Richard Rocha said in a written statement.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has been trying to organise workers at an Amazon facility in Alabama, criticised the company for keeping the Illinois site open during a weather emergency.

At least two people died in Missouri, the governor's office said, and hundreds of homes and buildings were damaged.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s office said the storms killed at least two people in the state and initial assessments indicate they destroyed or did major damage to hundreds of homes and buildings.

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