‘I could hear people screaming’: Survivors recount harrowing moment the deadliest twister in HISTORY barrels through Kentucky – leaving at least 94 people dead in its wake

  • Some survivors of a deadly tornado that killed at least 94 people have spoken out about what they experienced on Friday night
  • Doug and Jackie Koon said they went to her mother’s house to seek shelter there
  • They huddled up in the bathroom with their two sons in the bathtub, and their two-month-old daughter strapped in her car seat for protection when they went flying
  • Their two-month-old daughter may have suffered a stroke in the collapse, and their son had to undergo a CT scan to ensure his brain bleed did not get any worse 
  • Others spoke about the horrors they saw inside a Mayfield, Kentucky candle factory, where only 40 of the more than 100 workers that night have been recovered
  • They said the building was lifted up, and they had to climb out of the rubble – fearing they might not make it 
  • Governor Andy Beshear has said that up to 100 people are feared dead in Kentucky alone, with 80 confirmed
  • Twister now believed to be the deadliest in Kentucky history with the longest track of any in the nation 
  • It shatters the prior record for deadliest tornado in Kentucky history, set in 1890 when a twister killed 76   
  • Donations to Kentucky state fund for direct victim assistance can be made at: TeamWKYReliefFund.ky.gov

As rescue crews continued to search through the rubble for any survivors of a massive hurricane that struck Kentucky Friday night and left 94 people dead in its wake, those who have managed to survive are starting to speak out about their harrowing experiences. 

Some were able to escape from under the rubble in western Kentucky, which bore the brunt of the horrific storm that spread death and destruction across six states. Its epicenter was the town of Mayfield, a town of about 10,000 people in the far western part of Kentucky, where the Bluegrass State borders Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee.

Many tried to take shelter in the moments before the storm hit, including a man – who identified himself only as Dakota – and Valerie Yanis who found themselves trapped under a water fountain at a candle factory in Mayfield, for about two hours after the tornado rampaged through. 

After a while, both Yanis and Dakota said, they feared they were not going to make it. Dakota texted his girlfriend, Brandy, saying: ‘I love you, tell my mom I love her. I’m sorry, I tried,’ Brandy told ABC News, noting that hours had passed before she could find out whether he was alive.

Eventually, Dakota said, they were able to find a fire hydrant, which they used to pry through the rubble. He said he then joined the search rescue himself. ‘I found people with broken legs, some were nonresponsive.’

Yanis said she hurt her head, shoulder and leg in the escape, but has since been released from the hospital. ‘It feels like it was a dream,’ she told USA Today.

A man who identified himself only as Dakota, right, said he found himself trapped under a water fountain at the Mayfield candle shop, which was destroyed in the tornado. He texted his girlfriend, Brandy, left, that he loved her as he thought he was not going to make it out of the rubble alive


More than 100 people were working at the factory when the storm hit, but only 40 of them were rescued and alive as of Sunday, including Chesa Logue, who told USA Today she had restarted working at the candle factory two weeks before the storm hit.

She said the managers lined people up in a restroom and under shelter, where they stayed for 15 minutes before ‘the building lifted up and it swayed’ before it crashed down.

‘All you could hear was the screams of the people,’ she said.

Her head was protected in a five-gallon bucket of chemicals, she said, and the woman on top of her ‘managed to get herself loose and out from in between the walls.

‘And I just jerked my head out from in between the bucket and the wall and got out.’

She said she doesn’t remember how exactly she managed to escape the destruction, telling USA Today: ‘By the grace of God, I got out of there.’

Lora Capps was also on her tenth day at the job at the candle factory on Friday.

She told ABC News she and a janitor took shelter in a bathroom and they fell in a hole in the ground, under the debris. ‘He kept saying “I can’t breathe,” and I said, “I’m trying,”‘ she recounted of her last few moments with the janitor.

‘I just want his family to know I tried my best. I said “Just go be with God, and I’ll probably be following you.’

But Capps did not die – instead she was found by three men with a flashlight, who helped her to safety and reunited her with her son.

‘This is going to traumatize me for the rest of my life,’ Capps said.

One of Friday’s tornadoes is believed to have remained on the ground for 227 miles, a world record. Kentucky bore the brunt of the destruction, and the storm is now the deadliest tornado strike in the state’s history

Search are rescue crews work at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory Sunday morning. Rescuers describe crawling over the bodies of the dead to reach survivors, and only 40 out of 110 workers have been recovered alive

Recovery crews work at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory where 110 were working when the tornado struck. Only 40 of the workers were rescued alive

Factory owner Mayfield Consumer Products was a major employer in the town of 10,000. A family-owned business founded in 1998, it had recently been hiring — a rarity in an America where small manufacturers more often lose out to international competitors.

‘Our Mayfield, Kentucky facility was destroyed December 10, 2021, by a tornado, and tragically employees were killed and injured,’ CEO Troy Propes said in a message on the company website.

‘Our employees, some who have worked with us for many years, are cherished.’

The factory also employed trusted inmates from a local prison and had been operating in shifts around the clock to meet high demand in the busy Christmas season.

A group of prisoners were seen helping some of the victims get free from the rubble in the aftermath of the storm.   

Kentucky State Trooper Sarah Burgess said on Sunday rescue crews were using heavy equipment to remove rubble at the candle factory. Coroners were called to the scene and bodies were recovered, but she didn´t know how many.

Rescue efforts were complicated because Mayfield´s main fire station and emergency services hub were also hit by the tornado. 

Jackie and Doug Koon’s two-month-old daughter, Oaklynn, may have suffered from a stroke in the storm

Their four year old son also had to get a CT scan at a local hospital to ensure the brain bleed he had did not get any worse

Others have since spoken about the trauma their families were facing in the aftermath, such as Jackie and Doug Koon.  

The family ran over to Jackie’s mother’s house, where their eldest son was staying, before the storm hit, Doug told MSNBC on Sunday. He said the family huddled together in the bathroom with their two sons laying in the bathtub with pillows over them, and their two month old baby girl strapped into her car seat – figuring that would give her the most protection.

‘Nothing is … scarier than knowing a tornado is heading your way and hearing your kids freaking out, and thinking we are going to die,’ Jackie wrote on Facebook following the ordeal.

When the tornado finally hit her mother’s house in Dawson Springs, she said, ‘We all went flying and ended up on the other side of our neighbor’s house.’

As the storm subsided, Doug told MSNBC he looked up from where he landed and saw his four-year-old son standing there and screaming for ‘daddy.’ The boy had a cut on his head, Doug said, and it was bleeding.

He said tried to stop the bleeding as he searched for his other family members through the rubble, guided by screaming and moaning – gathering his family back one at a time.  

‘It’s the most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through,’ he said. ‘I felt like I was helpless in protecting my kids against it.’ He said he tried to stop everyone’s bleeding and get them to safety before his mother-in-law’s house was completely destroyed, and then rushed his family to the hospital.

He said his four-year-old son had to have a CT scan to ensure the brain bleed he had does not get worse, and overnight, his two-month-old daughter, Oaklynn’s, condition worsened.

Jackie posted on Facebook on Sunday that the doctors at the local hospital ran some tests on her baby daughter, and ‘they think she has injured her neck veins, which may have caused her to have a stroke.’ 

She was being incubated and transferred to another hospital. 

‘Hold your loved ones tight,’ Jackie wrote. ‘I never imagined having to go [through] something like this in life.’ 

Jackie Koon posted updates about the family’s survival after a deadly tornado passed through her mother’s house in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, completely destroying the house

Doug Koon spoke to MSNBC about having to find his children in the rubble after they were swept away in the storm

Not everyone was fortunate to survive the deadly storm, which Gov. Andy Beshar said was the deadliest tornado in Kentucky’s history.

Kentucky District Judge Brian Crick, a married father of three, was among those killed in the storm

The confirmed death toll in Kentucky alone is now higher than any tornado in the state’s history at 80, with the multi-state toll standing at 94 and expected to rise as recovery efforts continue.

That shatters the prior record for the deadliest tornado in Kentucky history, set in 1890 when a twister killed 76 in the Louisville area, according to National Weather Service records. 

‘[The death toll] is going to exceed more than 100. This is the deadliest tornado event we’ve ever had,’ Beshear told CNN, adding that in the town Dawson Springs alone, the list of the missing is eight pages long, single-spaced.

‘I’ve got towns that are gone – that are just, I mean, gone,’ he said. ‘You go door-to-door to check on people and see if they’re okay. There are no doors. The question is, is there somebody in the rubble of thousands upon thousands of structures. I mean, it’s devastating.’ 

One twister carved a track that could rival the longest on record, as the stormfront smashed apart a candle factory in Kentucky, crushed a nursing home in Arkansas and flattened an Amazon distribution center in Illinois.

Beshear said that one tornado was on the ground for 227 miles, 200 of which were in Kentucky, which would break the prior global tornado-track record of 219 miles. 

The death toll across five states also includes 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. 

Among the dead is Kentucky District Judge Brian Crick, 43, a married father of three who served McLean and Muhlenberg counties, was among those killed in the storm, the commonwealth’s Supreme Court chief justice confirmed.  

Local residents Darlene Easterwood and Tim Evans embrace after taking part in an outdoor Sunday service with members of First Christian Church and First Presbyterian Church in the aftermath of a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky

Workers remove a sign from a destroyed business in aftermath of a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky on Sunday

First Presbyterian Church was left mostly destroyed in the center of Mayfield in tornadoes that killed scores of Kentuckians

People embrace on Sunday as tornado damage is seen in Mayfield, Kentucky after extreme storms struck, leaving more than 80 people dead Saturday in the state

In Earlington, Kentucky the powerful winds derailed a freight train, tossing the heavy cars like a child’s playthings

Dena Ausdorn stands at the remains of her home after a tornado leveled the town of Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Ausdorn has lived there for 28 years and lost two of her dogs with another left paralyzed after the tornado

As the sun rose on Sunday morning, survivors in Mayfield picked through the rubble to salvage anything they could

The Mayfield courthouse is seen before and after the powerful storm, which ripped off the clock tower and second floor

Kentucky residents, many without power, water or even a roof over their heads, worked on Sunday to salvage what they could in towns that had been all but destroyed.

And in a telegram on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered ‘sincere condolences’ to his US counterpart Joe Biden, despite rising tensions over the Russian military buildup at the Ukrainian border. 

The historic nature of the storm has led some to blame climate change, including Biden and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

‘The effects we are seeing of climate change are the crisis of our generation,’ Criswell told CNN on Sunday morning. ‘This is going to be our new normal.’

Warm weather driven by a La Nina pattern was a crucial ingredient in this tornado outbreak, but whether climate change is a factor is not quite as clear, meteorologists say. 

Timothy McDill, 48, tears up on Sunday as he recounts the story of surviving the tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky 

McDill, who continues to spend the night inside his home to protect it from looters, stands in his living room while looking out over the damage and debris on Sunday morning

The night of the storm, McDill (above) tied himself, his wife, his two grandkids, 14 and 12, their two Chihuahuas and a cat to a drainpipe in their basement using a flagpole rope and waited for it to be over

A telephone pole came through a window of the home and the brick exterior was ripped off, leaving entire rooms exposed

Tornado damage is seen Sunday in Mayfield after extreme weather hit the region on Friday night. Dozens of devastating tornadoes roared through five US states overnight, leaving more than 80 people dead

Bogdan Gaicki surveys tornado damage Sunday in Mayfield, Kentucky after extreme weather hit the region, leaving more than 80 people dead in the deadliest storm in Kentucky history

Kentucky residents, many without power, water or even a roof over their heads, worked on Sunday to salvage what they could in towns that had been all but destroyed

People walk amongst damage caused by tornados in Mayfield, Kentucky on Sunday as survivors picked through the wreckage

Since late Friday, rescue workers have been desperately searching through the tangle of debris that is all that remains of the factory, where fallen girders and twisted sheet metal are piled high.

They have been seen removing corpses, while advancing gingerly through the wreckage with heavy equipment. Specially trained dogs sniff the debris to find anyone — dead or alive — still buried. 

Meanwhile, Western Kentucky University, which previously said that a student had been killed, amended their statement to confirm that a close relative of a graduating senior had died.

The school’s graduation ceremony, set for Saturday, has been cancelled and the school still has no electricity amid widespread power outages. 

In this aerial photo, a collapsed candle factory is seen with workers searching for survivors Sunday in Mayfield, Kentucky

A general view of damage and debris in Mayfield, Kentucky after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes ripped through

A general view of a hallway inside a nursing home in Mayfield, Kentucky is seen Sunday after a tornado strike

Destroyed homes and debris are seen in a heavily damaged neighborhood at dawn in Dawson Springs, Kentucky

The remains of Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church after a tornado in Dawson Springs on Sunday. A monstrous tornado, carving a track that could rival the longest on record, ripped across the middle of the U.S. on Friday

Decimated homes are seen in Mayfield, Kentucky on Sunday following the deadliest tornado in Kentucky’s history

Elsewhere, at least six people were killed in the collapse of the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, with another injured worker airlifted to a hospital, fire Chief James Whiteford said.

One of the victims was Larry Virden, 46, who died when the roof came down at the massive facility. He had been working at Amazon for five months, and his girlfriend of 13 years, Cherie Jones, told the New York Post the company ordered him to hold off on driving until after the storm passed.

‘I got text messages from him,’ she said. ‘He always tells me when he is filling up the Amazon truck when he is getting ready to go back.

‘I was like “OK, I love you,” he’s like, “Well Amazon won’t let me leave until the storm blows over.’

Jones said the text was sent around 8.23pm, 16 minutes before the tornado touched down at 8.39pm.

The couple lived in nearby Collinsville, which Jones said is about 13 minutes from the warehouse.

‘We heard the tornado didn’t touch down until 8.39, so he had 20 minutes to get home,’ she said. ‘I messaged him and that was the last text message I got from him.

‘I told him where we live, it was only lightning at the time. After that, I got nothing from him.’

When asked whether she blamed Amazon for Virden’s death, she said: ‘Not really, but it’s that what-if situation: What if they would have let him leave? He cold have made it home.’

She noted that Virden ‘made peace with his Maker’ when he served in the US Army in Iraq, ‘so he was prepared to die. But we didn’t want him to die now.’

Jones said their three children are now having difficulty understanding why their father is not returning home. 

On Sunday, investigators searched the rubble throughout the day for additional victims and 45 people survived, Chief Whiteford said. Authorities were uncertain Saturday evening whether anyone was still unaccounted because workers were in the midst of a shift change when it was struck by the tornado about 8:30 p.m. Friday.

‘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. 

In Earlington, Kentucky the powerful winds derailed a freight train, sending one car flying 75 yards from the tracks

People work at the scene of a train derailment in Earlington after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes

Workers say it will take some time to clear the tracks after the powerful winds ripped a freight train off the tracks

In Earlington, Kentucky the powerful winds also derailed a freight train, sending one car flying 75 yards from the tracks.

Photos show that two cars separated entirely from the train near Highway 41, with much of the rest of the train tipped on its side. 

‘They say it sounds like a train. It’s a lot worse than a train,’ Jesse Johnson, who was at the center of the tornado in Earlington, told WFIE-TV. 

In one astonishing example of the twister’s fearsome whim, an old family photo was carried more than 130 miles before it was recovered intact and reunited with its owner.

Katie Posten, of New Albany, Indiana, wrote on Facebook that she was walking out to her car when she discovered the photo from the 1940s stuck to her windshield. 

‘The tornado that ripped through Kentucky last night seems to have dissipated just a bit southwest of us, and it’s said to have carried debris up into the sky up to seven miles or more, so no doubt that it came from a home in the path of destruction,’ Posten wrote in a public appeal searching for the photo’s owner.

Incredibly, thanks to the inscription on the back, Posten was able to reunite the photo with the Swatzell family in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. 

It was a rare moment of hope amid countless tales of tragedy, particularly in Mayfield, where entire blocks were flattened, houses and buildings ripped apart, leaving twisted metal, shattered tree limbs and bricks scattered across streets. 

That included the city’s courthouse, whose clock tower was completely torn off by the tornadoes. The historic landmark dates to the 19th century.  

Katie Posten, of New Albany, Indiana, found a family photo on her windshield and was able to locate the Kentucky family it belonged to, 130 miles away, through a public appeal on Facebook

In this aerial view, homes and businesses are destroyed on Saturday after a tornado ripped through town the previous evening in Mayfield, Kentucky. Multiple tornadoes touched down in several Midwest states

People retrieve merchandise from a Mayfield store after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes

Satellite images show shows homes and buildings in Mayfield before and after a devastating twister

A general view of damage and debris after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes ripped through several U.S. states, in Mayfield, Kentucky on Sunday

Emmanuel Baptist Church is seen in the aftermath of the tornadoes on Friday in Mayfield, Kentucky on Saturday morning

A resident of the The Cardinal Inn in Bowling Green, Kentucky, looks at the damages done after a tornado touched down

At least two were dead and many people were trapped after a roof partially collapsed at this Amazon warehouse after a tornado passed through Edwardsville, Illinois

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 Gensini, a researcher on extreme weather at Northern Illinois University.

The longest tornado on record, in March 1925, tracked for about 220 miles through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. But Gensini said this twister may have touched down for nearly 250 miles. The storm was all the more remarkable because it came in December, when normally colder weather limits tornadoes, he said.

Debris from destroyed buildings and shredded trees covered the ground in Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 in western Kentucky. Twisted metal sheeting, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets. Windows and roofs were blown off the buildings that were still standing.

The missing at the candle factory included Janine Denise Johnson Williams, a 50-year-old mother of four whose family members kept vigil at the site Saturday.

‘It´s Christmastime and she works at a place that´s making candles for gifts,’ her brother, Darryl Williams, said. ‘To give up the gift of life to make a gift. We haven´t heard anything, and I´m not presuming anything. But I´m expecting for the worst.’

He said Johnson Williams called her husband overnight to report the weather was getting bad, the last time anyone heard from her.

Search and rescue crews work through the night at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory early Sunday in Mayfield

Emergency response workers dig through the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield on Saturday. Only 40 out of the 110 workers in the factory have been rescued alive

Emergency workers transport a tornado victim in a body bag at the Mayfield Consumer Products Candle Factory on Saturday

After a wall at a nursing home in Mayfield collapsed, Vernon Evans said he rushed to help firefighters pull people out, only to find one resident lying dead in a few inches of water.

‘All I could do is sit there and hold their head up,’ he said. ‘I never experienced nothing like this.’

President Joe Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration for Kentucky on Saturday and pledged to support 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.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has established a tornado relief fund to directly assist those impacted by the storm system, donations can be made at: TeamWKYReliefFund.ky.gov 

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