Six dead, no hope of survivors after tornadoes destroy Amazon warehouse near St Louis


EDWARDSVILLE, Ill., Dec.11 (Reuters) – Six workers at Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) were confirmed dead on Saturday after a series of tornadoes roared through a warehouse near St. Louis, ripping off its roof and causing 11-inch thick concrete walls longer than football fields to collapse on themselves.

At least 45 Amazon workers have emerged unharmed from the rubble at the 500,000 square foot facility in Edwardsville, Ill., Said Fire Chief James Whiteford. Authorities had given up hope of finding more survivors as they transitioned from rescue to recovery efforts that were to last for several days.

Tornadoes ravaged six U.S. states Friday night, leaving a trail of death and destruction in homes and businesses that stretched for more than 200 miles.

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The Amazon plant was hit at around 8:38 p.m. Central time, Whiteford said. The force of the winds was so strong that the roof was torn off and the building collapsed on itself.

Witnesses said factory workers were taken by surprise and forced to take refuge wherever they could find.

“I had a colleague who would send me pictures when they took refuge in the bathroom, pretty much anywhere they could hide,” said Alexander Bird, who works at the warehouse across the street.

“People had to think quickly.”

Amazon said all employees are normally notified and instructed to move to a designated and marked on-site shelter when a site is notified of a tornado warning in the area.

Emergency response training is provided to new employees and reinforced throughout the year, the company said.

A collapsed roof is seen at an Amazon fulfillment center after a tornado hit Edwardsville, Illinois, the United States on December 11, 2021. REUTERS / Lawrence Bryant

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It was not known how many workers were still missing because Amazon did not have an exact count of the number of people working in the sorting and delivery center when the tornadoes struck, Whiteford said.

Colleagues and family members are in desperate need of news of their loved ones gathered outside the mess of concrete and steel.

Amazon truck driver Emily Epperson, 23, said she eagerly awaited information about the fate of coworker Austin McEwan late Saturday afternoon to pass it on to her girlfriend and parents.

“We’re so worried because we think he, you know, has already been found,” she told Reuters.

A mother told a St Louis Fox news station that her son Clayton Cope, a 29-year-old maintenance worker, had died. Police had yet to officially release the names of the dead.

“Everyone assumes they will be safe on the job,” said Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker. “We don’t think they’ll ever come home.”

Pritzker said he had been in contact with Amazon executives, who pledged financial support to the community.

Earlier, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy posted on twitter that the company was “heartbroken at the loss” of its staff and would continue to work closely with local authorities on rescue efforts.

“It gives me chills,” said Kathie Burnett, 67. She was a delivery driver at Amazon until two weeks ago, when she quit due to health reasons.

“I would have stood right in the middle of this trail,” she said, pointing to what was left of the facility. “There would have been 100 trucks there last night and you didn’t see any this morning, did you?” “

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Reporting by Richa Naidu in Edwardsville, Illinois, Nathan Layne in New York and Anirudh Saligrama in Bengalaru; Writing by Leela de Kretser; Editing by Caroline Stauffer, Diane Craft, Daniel Wallis and Chris Reese

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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