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The search continues for dozens more feared dead in Mayfield, Ky., after tornado


It's been another day of search and rescue across Western Kentucky after a series of powerful tornadoes hit the area. In Mayfield, Ky., dozens are feared dead in a collapsed candle factory. Many of the 110 people who were working Friday night still have not been accounted for. It's the highest concentration of fatalities along a 200-mile path of destruction.

Blake Farmer of member station WPLN has been reporting near the factory, where residents are also coming to terms with just how long it will be before life returns to normal. Hi, Blake.


FLORIDO: What is the latest at the candle factory?

FARMER: Well, the search is still on. And they're no longer finding folks alive, at least not today. FEMA rescue teams have been combing through the rubble, though, now with the help of specially trained dogs. And hope is running out for many in town waiting to hear word about friends and loved ones. Just about anybody I've talked to knows someone at this factory. Axel Diaz used to work there when he first moved to town and still lives in an apartment near this industrial area that was hit so badly.

AXEL DIAZ: We - I probably lost one of my friends over there. It's sad. I mean, it's something that happened in less than two minutes. All this, all you can see around was in a minute and a half.

FARMER: Diaz is pointing to the toppled trees, collapsed homes, sheet metal and insulation hanging in all the trees - that remain standing, anyway. Somehow, his apartment building is still inhabitable, but most around him are destroyed. Neighboring homes are just piles of drywall and two-by-fours. Power poles and electric lines are still just tangled messes on the side of the road. And he's pretty close to the local power substation that was also right in the tornado's path.

FLORIDO: Are people even talking about when utilities will be restored?

FARMER: Well, residents are certainly asking. In fact, a father named Harry Lynn Jr. stopped me in a heavily damaged neighborhood to see what I knew.

HARRY LYNN JR: Right now, I'm going to get some water from a lake around here so I can flush my toilet. We have no running water here. We have no power here. It's like somebody dropped a bomb in Mayfield.

FARMER: Yeah, so it's not just power lines. Plumbing's also messed up. Mains are gushing in the streets still. Natural gas has been turned off in much of town. Cellphone service is spotty at best. But I got a little insight from a local lineman who was working at the damaged substation, which serves all of Mayfield. It needs to be repaired first. And parts are tough to get given supply chain issues worldwide.

FLORIDO: Are we talking days, weeks? What are we talking about?

FARMER: Well, the substation actually is the easy part. And even the high-powered lines that were torn down leading into it aren't all that hard to fix. The big problem is they're basically going to have to rebuild the city's power grid. So it's going to be dark for quite some time. That's why Kentucky's governor announced this afternoon they're opening state parks to house folks for at least two weeks.

FLORIDO: And, Blake, we've been focused on Mayfield, where you are, where there are so many deaths. But what about other communities in the area?

FARMER: Well, there - yeah, there are at least four counties with double-digit death counts and rising. Seventy miles down the storm track from me, the small town of Dawson Springs had a dozen fatalities. And there were other tornadoes Friday night and Saturday morning that would have been noteworthy on their own, including one in the city of Bowling Green. Kentucky officials still expect this will be the most deadly tornado outbreak in the state's history.

FLORIDO: Blake, thank you.

FARMER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Blake Farmer
Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.