US President Joe Biden on Sunday, barely two days after authorities said more than 30 tornadoes tore across seven US states, leaving a trail of destruction that was still being assessed, declared a Major Federal tragedy in Kentucky, releasing more aid to the hard-hit state, after a swarm of deadly tornadoes ripped across the country’s central region.
While the overall death toll remained unclear, and could still rise, as of Monday, at least six people had been killed in Illinois, with four dead in Tennessee and two in Arkansas, according to local officials.
Meanwhile Spokesman for candle factory destroyed by tornado in Kentucky says death toll at the site may be lower than expected.
Kentucky remained the hardest hit, with the Louisville Courier Journal tallying at least 50 confirmed dead by local officials in the state.
“It’s a tragedy,” Biden said. “And we still don’t know how many lives are lost and the full extent of the damage.”
In one potential glimmer of hope in the grim situation, a suspected death toll of as many 70 people killed when a candle factory was destroyed in the small city of Mayfield could be revised down to 16 or fewer.
Bob Ferguson, a spokesperson for Mayfield Consumer Products, said of the 110 people who were at the factory, eight have been confirmed dead and eight were missing. Rescue teams are searching for the eight who remained unaccounted for.
“There were some early reports that as many as 70 could be dead in the factory. One is too many, but we thank God that the number is turning out to be far, far fewer,” he added.
Also Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, who on Saturday had predicted the death toll in the state would rise above 100, said information was still being gathered.
“The owner has been in contact and believes he has some different information. We are trying to verify it. If so, it may be a better situation and the miracle we were hoping for,” Beshear said.
The governor scaled back the estimated death toll in the state to as low as 50.
Biden had previously declared the storms a federal emergency, enabling the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in the aftermath as thousands face housing, food, water and power shortages.
But under an emergency declaration, assistance is limited to $5 million, according to the FEMA website.
Biden’s new declaration of a major federal disaster releases additional federal aid, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs, loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programmes to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
As part of its response, FEMA was opening shelters and sending teams and supplies including 30,000 meals and 45,000 liters (12,000 gallons) of water.
“I promise you, whatever is needed, the federal government is going to find a way to provide it,” Biden said.
Rescue workers were still scouring debris for survivors two days after disaster struck, but authorities on Sunday said hopes of finding those missing alive were dwindling.
About 300 National Guard members have been going house to house, checking on people and helping to remove debris.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has condoled with American people following the devastating tornadoes.
Reacting to the disaster in a statement on Sunday by his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, President Buhari said “the destruction of whole towns, flattening of houses, schools, hospitals, businesses and other social infrastructure on a scale never seen before is deeply saddening.
“Our deepest sympathies go to all those affected, as well as the government and the American people,” he said.