Efforts to restore power and attend to the needs of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed by tornadoes in the U.S. state of Kentucky continued Tuesday while authorities struggled to assess the damage.
A series of season-defying tornadoes Friday night and early Saturday ripped through Kentucky and several other states, causing a wide swath of destruction from weather conditions more common in the spring.
The storms killed at least 88 people, with around 74 deaths reported in Kentucky.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said Monday the death toll could rise as enormous amounts of debris continued to hinder recovery efforts that include sheltering those whose homes were destroyed, delivering essential supplies and replacing thousands of utility poles.
Nearly 450 National Guard members joined workers and volunteers with the efforts, 95 of whom were searching for missing people.
Beshear said more than 100 people were still unaccounted for, mostly in Dawson Springs, a town of fewer than 3,000 residents.
About 24,000 homes and businesses were without electricity in Kentucky early Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us., mostly in Mayfield, a town of 10,000 people that suffered some of the severest damage.
Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett said Monday that more than 10,000 homes and businesses in the state had no water.
Beshear said $6 million in donations had been collected for a relief fund the state established for tornado victims. Kentucky first lady Britainy Beshear is asking for unwrapped toys, books and $25 gift cards for a Christmas drive she launched for needy families.
Dossett said Kentucky’s difficult recovery efforts “will go on for years to come,” adding, “This is a massive event.”
While Kentucky was hit the hardest, several tornadoes also left destruction in the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. A nursing home was destroyed in Arkansas while an Amazon distribution center was heavily damaged in Illinois.
The tornadoes killed at least six people in Illinois, four in Tennessee, two in Arkansas and two in Missouri.
U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Kentucky on Wednesday to view damage from the devastating tornadoes.
Biden, who has already signed emergency declarations for the state, said he stands ready to do the same for Illinois. Biden added that he has ordered his administration to make every resource available to local and state officials in Kentucky and the other states impacted by the storms.
“We're going to have to go beyond what is available to the federal government, for example, where FEMA can come up with up to $35,000 in housing restoration,” Biden said, adding, “There's a lot to be done and we're just getting under way. But we're going to work with all the governors to make sure that we can."
The president said his message to state governors was that the federal government would help them get “whatever they need, when they need it.”
Biden added, “We’re going to be there as long as it takes to help.”
Strong storms of this nature are unusual for December in North America. Meteorologists say record warm air and water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico fueled those systems.