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A series of deadly tornadoes swept across a large swath of the Midwestern and Southeastern US overnight on December 10, 2021. The National Weather Service (NSW) estimates that the severe storms spawned about 50 twisters across eight states — Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, and Illinois.
The tornadoes destroyed thousands of homes, churches, and businesses along their path, and even knocked a train with 28 empty rail cars from its tracks. At least 84 people are believed to be dead, and many more are still unaccounted for.
Kentucky, which experienced four tornadoes, was the hardest hit. The most destructive twister, dubbed the Quad-State Tornado, touched the ground for 227 miles — 200 of which were in Kentucky. It caused widespread damage across ten counties, destroying at least a thousand homes and many more businesses. Over 70 deaths have been confirmed and the numbers are likely to increase in the upcoming days. The biggest fatalities were reported in Mayfield, Kentucky, where ten workers died after a candle factory collapsed. Over 75 percent of the approximately 2,500 residents of Dawson Springs in Western Kentucky have lost their homes.
"The level of devastation is unlike anything I've ever seen," Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said in a press briefing on December 13, 2021. "You see parts of industrial buildings, roofs or sidings, and trees — if trees are lucky enough to stand — huge metal poles bent in half, if not broken; buildings that are no longer there; huge trucks that have been picked up and thrown; and, sadly, far too many homes that people were likely in, entirely devastated."
The NSW is still trying to determine if the Quad-State Tornado, which ripped through Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee before arriving in Kentucky, was one continuous tornado or several twisters produced by the same storm. If confirmed as one single and continuous tornado, it will establish a new record as the longest "long-track" twister in US history. The current record-holder is the "Tri-State" tornado that tracked 219 miles across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana in 1925. Experts assert that a twister of this intensity is extremely unusual, not just in December but even during spring and early summer, which is considered peak tornado season.
On Saturday, December 11, 2021, President Joe Biden approved emergency federal funding to help the rescue and rebuilding efforts in Kentucky. Members of the National Guard have also been deployed to help local first responders remove debris, distribute water and generators, and restore power to hundreds of thousands of residents across the eight states.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross have set up numerous shelters to help those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the twisters. Americans across the country are doing their share by opening their wallets to help those in need. A Kentucky tornado relief fund has collected $4 million in just two days, and the numbers are only rising.
Resources: CNN.com, NPR.com, ABCnews.go.com, LiveScience.com