As emergency workers continue to search for survivors after hordes of tornadoes swept across the U.S. South and Midwest on Friday night, at least six workers at an Amazon.com warehouse were confirmed dead after extreme weather caused the Illinois warehouse near St. Louis to collapse on itself.
Tornadoes ripped through the 500,000-square-foot warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, causing its tremendous concrete walls to collapse on the terrified overnight shift.
Fortunately, 45 Amazon employees escaped the horrifying scene, according to fire chief James Whiteford said. However, despite six workers being confirmed dead, authorities temporarily halted attempts to search for survivors as recovery efforts begin that will last days at the very least.
Authorities believe that there is no hope that any survivors can be found despite an unknown amount of workers remaining missing.
Tornadoes carved an over 200-mile swathe of destruction spanning five states including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee on Friday night, crumbling metal structures like paper and toppling concrete buildings. Even a freight train was thrown from its track, reports New York Times.
Survivors at the Amazon facility were blindsided by the tornadoes despite warnings broadcast in advance of the extreme weather. When the warehouse was stuck at roughly 8:38 p.m. Central Time, workers scrambled to seek shelter wherever they could, reports Reuters.
“I had a coworker that was sending me pictures when they were taking shelter in the bathroom, basically anywhere they could hide,” said Alexander Bird, a worker at a nearby warehouse. “People had to think on their feet quick.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that the state would work with Amazon executives to get financial support to the impacted communities.
“Everyone assumes they will be safe at work,” said Pritzker. “We don’t think that they will never come home.”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos tweeted on Saturday that the company would provide aid to recovery efforts.
“All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis,” Bezos wrote.
The billionaire’s pledge comes amid criticism from various quarters and across social media that the warehouse workers should have been evacuated in advance of the tornadoes.
The company has notoriously remained open in past extreme weather events, such as during September’s Tropical Depression Ida, when New York City saw streets flooded while Amazon workers in the metropolis continued to work around the clock.
The company, however, claims that employees were notified and directed to move to safe shelter-in-place locations when they received word of the tornado warning.
It remains unclear how high the death count could climb in the coming days, as the company doesn’t have a precise count of workers who were clocked in at the sorting and delivery center at the time, according to authorities.
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