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Beshear: 77 dead, one unaccounted for after tornadoes

Derek Operle

Gov. Andy Beshear gave a brief update Friday morning on the number of people still missing and the death toll connected with the lethal tornado system that tore across western Kentucky last week.

He spoke from the Capitol building in Frankfort, where he was participating in an American Red Cross Blood Drive to get needed disaster relief supplies to the impacted region.

The number of fatalities, the governor reported, is up to 77 – one new fatality confirmed in Lyon County and a death reported Thursday in Warren County, along with three in Hopkins County that are still being confirmed through their coroner. As of Friday morning, only one person is still unaccounted for statewide and teams are searching for that individual in Hopkins County.

“As we sit here almost one week to the day of the worst tornado disaster the state has ever seen, we are digging out,” Beshear said. “Yes, we are down and, yes, we are hurting, but we are not defeated and we are not broken.

“Together we will dig out and together we will clean up and together we will rebuild both structures and lives.”

Beshear also spoke about the over 1,300 state employees working in western Kentucky in the wake of the storm. This includes over 600 Kentucky National Guard members and 600 Kentucky Transportation Cabinet workers, along with 100 Kentucky State Police officers and 20 from the state forestry service.

The National Guard, Beshear said, has shifted from search and rescue missions to mostly law enforcement augmentation in response to claims of looting.

“Sadly there does appear to be looting and we cannot let it happen,” the governor said. “To take advantage of somebody who has lost everything is beyond despicable and if we catch you we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law. Be a decent human being.”

The governor expects there to be upwards of 700 FEMA workers in western Kentucky this week.

“To go in less than a week from pulling people out of the rubble to actually having FEMA people walking up to what used to be your home and saying we want to help and processing your claims is nothing short of amazing,” Beshear said. “We have received unprecedented help.”

Several state parks are providing housing to some of the thousands of displaced Kentuckians whose homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by the storm. Over 600 Kentuckians are staying in KenLake, Kentucky Dam Village, Barren River, John James Audubon, Pennyrile and Rough River state parks.

The governor reported that, as of Friday morning, over $18.39 million had been donated to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund.

As relief and recovery efforts continue statewide, Beshear called for businesses to consider relocating to the impacted areas so that people faced with the choice of rebuilding could have jobs waiting for them.

Beshear knows that the process will take a long time, but he’s determined to help the affected region get through it.

“Our commitment is the long term – the years that it’s going to take to get each and every family impacted and every town impacted back up on their feet,” he said. “To me this is deeply personal. These are our people and they have been harmed by something the likes of which we have never seen.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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