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64 confirmed dead in Kentucky tornadoes; more than 100 unaccounted for

A car sits among the remains of a destroyed house after a tornado in Dawson Springs, Ky., Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. A monstrous tornado, carving a track that could rival the longest on record, ripped across the middle of the U.S. on Friday. Michael Clubb, freelancer, AP

FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP) – At least 64 Kentuckians lost their lives due to an outbreak of tornadoes in west Kentucky, according to Gov. Andy Beshear who also announced President Biden has approved his request for a major disaster declaration.

“We are now in day three of responding to the worst tornado event in the history of our Commonwealth,” Beshear said during a Monday morning (Dec. 13) press conference at the State Capitol. “The state was hit by at least four tornadoes, one of which stayed on the ground in Kentucky for at least 200 miles, devastating anything in its path. Thousands of homes are damaged, if not destroyed. It may be weeks before we have final counts on both deaths and levels of destruction.”

He said the 64 confirmed deaths were in nine counties: 20 in Graves, 13 in Hopkins, 12 in Warren, 11 in Muhlenberg, four in Caldwell, and one each in Marshall, Taylor, Fulton and Lyon counties.

Eighteen victims were unidentified as of Monday morning, and Beshear said people with missing family members should contact the Kentucky State Police Post in Mayfield, bring photos of their missing loved ones, and submit to DNA testing, which could aid in identification.

“Undoubtedly, there will be more,” he said. “We believe it will certainly be above 80. With this amount of damage, it may be a week or even more, before we have a final count on the number of lost lives. Currently, we believe there are at least 105 who are unaccounted for, and we are still working to find.”

Three-hundred Kentucky National Guard soldiers and airmen remain activated, with more at the governor’s disposal.

“We will call out as many as are needed,” Beshear said. “There is still search and rescue going on, but at some point, that will switch to debris removal. They have been assisting in some law enforcement capacity, but as power gets back up, that will probably change, too. If we need more, we will have more.”

Since more than 1,000 homes were destroyed, FEMA will help with short-term and long-term housing assistance.

The president’s action in declaring a major disaster makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Caldwell, Fulton, Graves, Hopkins, Marshall, Muhlenberg, Taylor and Warren counties. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of wind damage and flooding.

Federal funding is also available to the state and local governments, and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in Caldwell, Fulton, Graves, Hopkins, Marshall, Muhlenberg, Taylor and Warren counties.

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray announced Monday he has signed an executive order temporarily suspending certain restrictions on motor carriers engaged in restoring power, clearing debris and delivering fuel to areas stricken by tornados and other severe weather.

“Our cabinet is ready to help ensure that needed relief gets quickly to areas that have lost electric power and otherwise are experiencing hardships due to the outbreak of tornados, high winds and flash flooding cited in the emergency declared by Gov. Andy Beshear,” Gray said.

The order temporarily relieves commercial drivers from maximum driving times and weigh station stops if providing response to affected areas.

It is effective until Jan. 14, 2022, and may be extended.