Questions Linger as to Why Workers Stayed at Kentucky Candle Factory After Tornado Warning Came
23:22 GMT 13.12.2021 (Updated: 13:30 GMT 14.12.2021)
Earlier, the factory owner revealed that over 90 of the 110 employees were working at the factory when the tornadoes had hit had been located. Eight remain missing and eight others have been confirmed dead, despite earlier fears that the number could be higher.
As rescuers from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continue to look for survivors at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Kentucky, questions remain regarding the workers' presence at the plant amid reports of an approaching tornado. The majority of the second shift at the plant stayed at the facility even as the first reports of destructive tornadoes arrived.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear suggested that most workers stayed because they were advised to shelter at the plant, which was mistakenly thought to be a relatively safe place. The tornado, however, leveled the factory, burying over 100 workers underneath flying rubble.
"It appears most were sheltering in the place they were told to shelter. I hope that area was as safe as it could be, but this thing got hit directly by the strongest tornado we could have possibly imagined", Governor Andy Beshear said.
According to company spokesman Bob Ferguson, however, the plant never forced its workers to stay, and added that some employees left for their homes upon hearing the warning siren instead of gathering in a central hallway area erroneously designated as a rally point in the event of a tornado. The entire building, however, was destroyed.
Questions also remain regarding the preparedness of the factory to react to a tornado threat. The company has been clocking high amounts of employee overtime recently with soaring holiday season demand and a systemic lack of workers for low-pay jobs within the labour force that the US has witnessed in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The factory had been actively hiring temporary workers for 12-hour shifts ahead of the disaster, to cover for the demand, the AP reported. The news agency cited a pair who worked there for months, Bryanna Travis, 19, and Jarred Holmes, 20, who both suggest that they received no training in reacting to a tornado threat.
"We haven't had one since we've been there", one of the two reportedly said.
Candle factory spokesman Ferguson nonetheless insisted that there had been "regular drills". Ferguson also indicated that the employees went to the designated shelter on the night between Friday and Saturday, when the deadly powerful tornadoes hit Kentucky and four other states. Ferguson noted that no one expected that the tornado would be of "such rare size and strength".
Some 64 people have been confirmed dead in Kentucky alone, and 14 more in other states, as a result of the surprise tornadoes that hit the US over the weekend. The tornado swarm is believed to have some of the longest ground tracks in US history and could soon be labeled as one of the nation's deadliest.