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At least 8 died at the local candle factory in one of the areas hit hard by tornadoes

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Officials now confirm that more than 100 people died in five states after powerful tornadoes swept through parts of the Midwest and the South on Friday night. The death toll is highest in Kentucky, where the governor today said 74 people, including six children, died. Governor Andy Beshear says there is not a camera lens big enough to show the scope of the devastation.

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ANDY BESHEAR: You stand in the middle of Mayfield or Dawson, where two-thirds of the town are gone, or in the town of Muhlenberg County, and it's almost crushing how it feels.

KELLY: Well, joining us now from Mayfield, Ky., is NPR's David Schaper.

Hey there.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Is the governor right - there just isn't a lens big enough to capture the damage you are seeing there?

SCHAPER: He is right. It's just devastating. It's just - this area that I'm in of Mayfield is completely wiped out. There's no home here that is unscathed. In fact, most are completely demolished. I'm looking at one place right here that's just a set of concrete steps leading up to nothing. All of the debris from the home is in a couple yards away. The city's water tower is up in this neighborhood, too. It was lifted off its foundation and dropped on a couple of homes a little ways away. It's now just a crumpled mess of heavy metal. It's hard to tell what it was. Thirty-three-year-old Charles Johnson survived with his girlfriend and their 5-month-old baby by huddling in an interior closet in their house.

CHARLES JOHNSON: I left my front door up, and all I could hear is people over here screaming help and everything else. And there was a woman that lived right there where that tower hit. She got pulled out of her house and flung way over here in this backyard back here. And I opened my door, and she was sitting there on her hands, trying to crawl to the street to get somebody to notice that she needed help.

KELLY: Oh, gosh. David, what about other survivors? What are you hearing?

SCHAPER: Yeah. Well, you know, everybody I talked to say that they're - firstly that they're happy to be alive. But many people here are just shell shocked and traumatized by what's happened. Twenty-eight-year-old Rafael Mercada and his family were at a friend's house a few blocks away from here, just on the edge of the zone of destruction. He says that house shook like it was an earthquake, and the tornado's roar was deafening. He says now the aftermath is affecting his young son.

RAFAEL MERCADA: And my boy is a little nervous now. Last night while he was sleeping, he started waking up and turning the flashlight on and turning the flashlight on. And I can - he don't want to sleep.

SCHAPER: Nightmares or - he's afraid it will happen again.

MERCADA: I mean, he don't speak. But, I mean, I can tell that he's nervous.

KELLY: I mean, you can't blame him, David. What is the latest from the candle factory there in Mayfield that we've heard a lot about? I'm seeing the latest from company officials - eight employees confirmed dead, eight still missing, but a bunch of survivors.

SCHAPER: Yeah. So the candle company, Mayfield Consumer Products, is very well-known here. Everyone seems to know somebody who either worked there, or in many cases, they worked there themselves. You know, state officials initially feared that there might have been many who died, as many as 70 in that rubble. The company says that it has now located almost all of those thought to have been missing. State officials are working to verify that because, you know, the factory itself is completely destroyed. It's just a huge mound of debris that search and rescue teams are combing through. Carl Johnson worked at that factory and says it's got a pretty poor reputation around town.

JOHNSON: If I still worked at that candle factory, I don't know. I'd probably be dead right now. A woman right across the street here - she worked there. They finally ended up finding her. She had - 38% of her body was burned up from all the candle wax and stuff.

SCHAPER: Mary Louise, this is just sad. There's so many heartbreaking stories just like this one.

KELLY: Thank you for being there and sharing some of them with us.

We appreciate your reporting, David.

SCHAPER: OK, Mary Louise.

KELLY: NPR's David Schaper in Mayfield, Ky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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