At least 70 dead after ‘most severe tornado event’ in Kentucky's history, governor says

Governor believes death toll will exceed 100

MAYFIELD, Ky. -- Multiple tornadoes have touched down in over a dozen Kentucky counties after one of the most severe tornado events in the state’s history, the governor said.

Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency based on the significant tornado damage in multiple Western Kentucky counties. He said in a press conference Saturday that the death toll has reached 70 and could exceed 100.

By Sunday, local media reported that the death toll had risen to 80 and could continue to climb.

The primary tornado was on the ground continuously for over 270 miles in the state, according to Beshear, who said the storm was "something we have never seen before."

The tornado-producing storm moved through five states from Arkansas to Kentucky overnight leaving catastrophic damage in its wake. When the sun came up Saturday, the full extent of the damage became clear. 

"The damage is even worse now that we have first light," Beshear said.

According to the governor, Graves County appears to be hit the hardest -- which is where the city of Mayfield was destroyed

"A roof collapse at a candle factory has resulted in mass casualties," Beshear said.

Beshear issued a state of emergency just before midnight Saturday and has activated the National Guard. The state is deploying 181 guardsmen, including search and rescue and debris clearance teams. 

"The Transportation Cabinet has mobilized its heavy equipment to help clear debris. They’ll be assisted by the Guard and the Division of Forestry," Beshear said.

The governor has requested an immediate federal emergency declaration. In addition, two tractor-trailers filled with water are headed towards Western Kentucky. 

"This has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history, and some areas have been hit in ways that are hard to put into words," Beshear said. "To all of our Kentucky families that are impacted by this, we want you to know that we are here for you. We love you. We are praying for you."

Counties with likely damage and debris include Fulton, Hickman, Graves, Marshall, Lyon, Caldwell, Hopkins, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Breckenridge, Bullit, Spencer, Shelby, Christian, Logan, Warren, Edmondson, Taylor and Marion counties. 

"We will make it through this. We will rebuild. We are strong, resilient people. And we’re going to be there every step of the way," Beshear said.