After a candle factory collapsed in the tornado, family and first responders mount a rescue Effort

By: April Carson



MAYFIELD, Ky. — On Friday evening, Janine Williams's husband, Paul, received a phone call from her telling him that a severe storm was approaching when the connection suddenly cut out. He hasn't heard from her since then.


When a twister hit the 50-year-old quality assurance employee was several hours into her night shift at Mayfield Consumer Products, with more than 100 others, and destroyed the metal structure above them.


Around 40 people were saved; many others are still missing and feared dead. On Friday night, Williams attempted to figure out which group his wife belonged to.

“I'm not going to leave without her,” Williams said as he sat on a bench outside His House Ministries counseling center where families were being interviewed and seeking information.


Janine, who he refers to as his "soul mate," said he drove home from their Paducah, Kentucky, residence immediately Saturday night to assist with rescue efforts but had yet to hear any news. “I'm looking for individuals who will assist me in locating my wife, be honest with me, and let me know as soon as feasible,” he added.


Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) said the candle factory, where officials believe dozens of people may have perished, was "horrific." The governor visited Mayfield on Saturday morning, making it his first stop.


“There’s at least 15 feet of metal with cars on top of it, barrels of corrosive chemicals that are there,” Gov. Steve Beshear (D) said late Saturday afternoon during a press conference after touring other severely damaged parts of the state.


"It'll be a miracle if anyone else is found alive in there," he added.


Workers in the small city's factory on the south side were lured inside when warnings about a developing tornado aired early that evening on local television. A manager at the candle factory, Charley McGregor, said that in the case of a major storm, they would hide in a toilet corridor in the rear of their production floor. When the sirens went off on Friday night, everyone was brought to that hallway, according to McGregor. She said everyone at the company was accounted for in the corridor. Several workers left early Friday night, according to McGregor, who was not on the night shift. However, she wasn't sure if staff were given the option to leave early once the tornado warning was issued.


“This is the most destructive, deadly tornado event in Kentucky history,” Gov. Steve Beshear said of today's storm , adding that at least 70 people had perished and that the state's total death toll could reach more than 100.


Linetta Burney, a night-shift supervisor at Bathwick Candles in Illogan, Cornwall, claimed the business was understaffed because of pandemic-related constraints. When the twister hit, there were about 118 people working at the plant. Burney, 39, said she lost one companion in the storm and several others were taken to hospitals.


“They don't force anybody to stay against their will,” said Burney over the phone on Saturday night. “When the tornado sirens go off, we move to the back hallways and line people up in a safe location.”


Over 30 tornadoes touched down in six states, leaving a trail of devastation. Kentucky was one of the worst-affected states.


“We're ground zero,” Beshear said.


Andrea Dowdy was huddled with her husband, Aaron, and their two children in a back room of their home in rural Wingo, Kentucky, last night as the deadly storm passed by. Dowdy's daughter, Logan Miller's daughter, began to panic when she saw the storm bearing down on the candle factory. The twister was rushing straight toward the candle facility. Her fiancé, Alec Clark, was in his workplace at the time of the catastrophe.


Miller attempted to reach out to him, but she couldn't get through. She could see where his phone was on her phone's screen, and it wasn't moving.


“I just said to my spouse, ‘Get here as soon as possible because Alec is there and he isn't responding,'” Dowdy continued. Miller, her father, and her brother immediately got in a vehicle to go to the facility.


“My husband, my son, and my daughter were the first ones on the scene,” Dowdy said. An hour or so later, she and her other daughter arrived with clothes to keep them warm. “And that's really all you can say about it: It was a huge debris field. There was no building there.


The family made a conclusion: Alec would not be leaving without them.


Without hesitation, the rescuers and survivors of other trapped workers soon arrived, fighting in the darkness against driving rain to remove rubble and save people whose voices they could hear crying out from beneath the debris.



Rescue workers arrived in droves, one by one, to extract the injured from the ruins — men and women with crushing injuries sustained as a result of concrete walls, beams, and cylinder blocks that had collapsed on them. She claims that workers with severe chemical burns from the chemicals Dowdy mentioned are used to make candle fragrances have been injured. There were people with major, multiple fractures. People in shock, and those who couldn't remember their own names were all there, according to her.


“There are things that everyone witnessed last night, and we saw today, which will stay with us for the rest of our lives,” Dowdy added as tears streamed down her face.


The husband of Dowdy and another person dug a tunnel through the debris in order to rescue some people, according to her account. “I saw one guy who went up to each survivor and asked if they had seen his daughter, who he believed was last in the bathroom at the facility. Finally, Dowdy said, the woman was carried out on a stretcher with a fractured foot. ‘That's my kid!’ the man yelled as he pointed to her.


According to Dowdy, the candle factory was one of Mayfield's largest employers at the time of the tornado and that nearly 120 people were at work when it struck. The workers who would have come in the late afternoon that day were those who worked the afternoon shift. Her husband used to work at the factory. His cousin now works there, and they know a lot of people from back home. It's a small town, she informed me.


Finally, after 2 a.m., Dowdy said several people were able to escape from a part of the rubble, as well as his son-in-law, Alec Clark. He was able to walk and talk. He had been trapped for almost five hours at that point. According to Lynne, he immediately turned to assisting in the rescue of his coworkers, eager to locate two particular colleagues who had been nearby when the concrete walls began to shake and then everything fell.


Both men were discovered in the next hour, both horribly wounded.

At 3:30 a.m., rescue workers located the last living person in the ruins. That was around the time they advised the Dowds and others to go home, according to local authorities.


“This is just something you see in other jurisdictions,” said Brad Jones, the coroner of Graves County, who sobbed while addressing the press outside a John Deere store adjacent to the facility on Saturday. As he outlined the damage, tears welled in his eyes, and he struggled to speak against a backdrop of broken windows, downed power lines, and uprooted trees. “You don't think it would happen here.”


MCP International has been family-owned and managed since its inception in 1988, with two factories within town limits currently employing dozens of Graves County locals. Workers at the MCP plant, which is also known as MCP International, create scented and ornamental candles. Employees were on a night shift at the facility on the southern side when the twister hit, according to witnesses.


There was no official death toll, so Mr. Jones asked family members to provide any pertinent information that might assist first responders in the search. Since Friday night, crews had been working nonstop and were expected to continue into Sunday.


Family members used social media to post photographs of missing family members who were inside the factory at the time of the storm's arrival, hoping for answers throughout the day.


Jones said he didn't know whether Mayfield Consumer Products instructed employees to flee or seek shelter. Calls to MCP board and headquarters went unanswered on Saturday. It is uncertain whether Kentucky has any additional procedures in place for manufacturers beyond what the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends in a normal tornado preparedness plan. According to multiple witnesses, in Mayfield a company transferred employees into a hallway, in order to avoid paying overtime pay.


“I can't comprehend what [the families] are going through. They're seeking answers now, and I understand why, and we're doing everything we can to make things easier for them. Hopefully, we'll be able to assist individuals get through this difficult situation,” Jones added.


The frantic cries of the trapped workers were broadcast live via a Facebook post from an Amazon contractor named Kyanna Parsons-Perez. She claimed she was trying to distract herself and others from panicking as they felt feet pressing down on them from above. She described the accident to media representatives, saying that she and her co-workers were huddled inside the factory when a gust of wind blew in, rattling the structure before it caved in. She was entombed beneath about five feet of debris and could not feel her legs for several minutes.


“It was the most terrifying thing I've ever gone through in my life,” Parsons-Perez stated. “I decided to live so that more people could be aware of what was happening.”


During the storm, KPC announced on Twitter that "graves county jail inmates were working in the factory when the tornado hit and assisted in rescuing approximately 50 individuals trapped beneath debris."


“When I tell you that some of those prisoners were working their tails off to get us out, they were assisting. And to witness prisoners — because you know they had the chance to attempt to flee or anything — they did not.” “They were there for us,” Parson-Perez added. “We were able to shift the debris around and evacuate.”


Jesse Perry, the executive of Graves County, Kentucky, said that the region's warning systems functioned well, but the twister moved swiftly and in low light. Cellphones exploded with automated alerts shortly before the tornado hit, most people were at home, and businesses were closed due to sirens.


“It's just awful,” Perry said. “You see that on television. It's your community. It's difficult.”

He ran into Mayfield, the county's industrial center, after the storm had passed through. The extent of the damage was difficult to discern in the dark, but first light revealed near-total devastation. For most people, electricity was out for an extended period of time.


“It looked like a bomb had dropped on our town,” said Ryan Mitchum, who owns a landscaping firm in the area and is a Mayfield native. It was difficult for him to comprehend that the factories—which provide work for local people—were operational. “It's just a large metal structure. They were aware of the danger [of these storms].”


Steven Elder, a Mayfield banker who ran for mayor four years earlier and is extremely active in the community, discovered that his home was saved, but his city was lost. The core of town was severely damaged.


The historic courthouse's clock tower has fallen. The century-old structures on the main plaza were reduced to matchsticks and brick heaps. The water tower tumbled into a mound of crushed metal. The slogan on the building was still visible, although it had been destroyed. The mural reading "Mayfield, more than a memory" was intact.


“It sounded like death was on its way for us,” Elder said of the howling tempest. “It's devastating to witness your whole community being destroyed.”


When he ran to the scene wearing tennis shoes, jogging pants, and a rain jacket, Pastor Steve Boyken had no idea what to anticipate. The 37-year-old was soon covered in dirt, on his hands and knees, talking to individuals among the factory ruins.


“I was able to mix with some of them and just talk to them, encourage them, pray with them while they were trapped beneath there,” Boyken said.


The pastor claimed that he saw several people perish during the rescue operation, which grew to include nearly 300 first responders and civilian and emergency personnel, according to Boyken's estimate. He showed photos of rescue workers looking through bars of metal, roof debris, and other debris on his phone.


“We found a seven-month pregnant lady in one of the [candle] manufacturing areas, and they were able to extricate her. It took some time. But I saw as we carried her on a basket, secured by EMS and first responders alongside ordinary people, and raised her up on a pallet platform.”


“It's going to be cold tonight, so we're getting the winter coats," Boyken added, pointing to a rack of tiny puffy jackets that would fit babies and toddlers. “A baby was discovered in a field by one of my church's members, a volunteer firefighter. Some of our Amish community were killed, and it's been distressing.”


While city dwellers come together to meet their basic material needs, the long-term consequences of crime and disaster will require care in the months ahead.

For Ivy Williams, 62, who has yet to hear from his wife, the road to recovery begins with an answer to the most difficult question he's ever had to ask: where is Janine?





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About the Blogger:


April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com


To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav


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