Night-shift workers were in the middle of the holiday rush, cranking out candles at Mayfield Consumer Products, when a tornado closed in on the factory and the word went out to seek shelter, but at least four claim supervisors that they would be fired if they left their shifts early.
At least eight people at the factory were killed, among dozens of fatalities across several Kentucky counties.
Word of the approaching storm circled for hours with up to 15 of those on shift asking managers if they could leave in order to shelter at their own homes, only to allegedly be told ‘no’.
The city of Mayfield, Kentucky was hit particularly hard, including a candle manufacturing factory that was operating at the time the twister hit
Autumn Kirks, right who was on shift tossed aside wax and fragrance buckets to make an improvised safe place. She glanced away from her boyfriend, Lannis Ward, left, and when she looked back, he was gone
There were 110 people in the building at the time that it was nearly collapsed by the tornado
Eight people from the factory died, with 74 people across Kentucky killed. Ten are still missing
Some ended up leaving during shifts without fear of what the repercussions may be.
It turned out to be the right decision. The factory was completely flattened with just rubble and twisted metal left behind – a testament to the destructive power of the storm.
Autumn Kirks who was on shift tossed aside wax and fragrance buckets to make an improvised safe place. She glanced away from her boyfriend, Lannis Ward, and when she looked back, he was gone.
Later in the day, she got the terrible news – that Ward had been killed in the storm.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear had initially said that only 40 of the 110 people working in the factory at the time were rescued, and that ‘it’ll be a miracle if anybody else is found alive in it,’ but by Sunday, the candle company said that while eight were confirmed dead and eight remained missing, more than 90 others had been located.
Mark and Courtney Saxton look at their home, which was devastated by a tornado in Mayfield. Mark says he was given no option to leave the factory as the tornadoes approached
Justin comforts his girlfiriend Sunny as the two stay at the The Way shelter in Wingo, Kentucky, Sunny’s brother lost his best friend in the candle factory collapse after tornadoes destroyed the facility
Many were still back on shift when the tornado hit destroying the factory. Mayfield is pictured
‘We are praying that maybe original estimates of those we have lost were wrong. If so, it’s going to be pretty wonderful,’ the governor said. Across the state, 74 people have been confirmed dead.
At the candle factory, rescuers had to crawl over the dead to get to the living at a disaster scene that smelled like scented candles.
McKayla Emery, 21, said workers first asked to leave the candle factory just after sirens sounded at around 5:30 p.m.
Workers stood in bathrooms and hallways, but it was several hours before the tornado came.
After believing the danger to have passed, workers asked to go home.
This combination of satellite images shows Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory before the storm hit, and then on Saturday after
A warehouse lies damaged after it was hit by a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky
Mayfield Candle Factory – pictured before the storm stuck
Buildings are razed to the ground after a tornado destroyed almost everything in Mayfield
‘People had questioned if they could leave or go home,’ said Emery to NBC News.
‘If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,’ Emery claims to have overheard managers tell four fellow workers who were standing close by. ‘I heard that with my own ears.
When the storm approached, the lights in the building began to flicker. Suddenly, everyone who was standing near her was struck by a block of concrete.
‘I kid you not, I heard a loud noise and the next thing I know, I was stuck under a cement wall,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t push anything. I was stuck.’
Emery was also badly burned by hot candle wax.
n this aerial view, crews clear the rubble at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory after it was destroyed by a tornado on Friday
A man searches for victims while climbing past the collapsed roof of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in the aftermath of a tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky
‘Some people asked if they could leave, but managers told them they would be fired,’ employee Latavia Halliburton said.
Another employee, Haley Conder, 29, said about 15 people asked to go home early on the night shift with a window of around three or four hours.
She describes how initially team leaders refused to let workers leave so everyone was kept in hallways and bathrooms. After believing that tornadoes were no longer a threat, it was back to work.
‘You can’t leave. You can’t leave. You have to stay here,’ Conder said managers told her. ‘The situation was bad. Everyone was uncomfortable.’
Mark Saxton, 37, who drives a forklift said he was given no option to leave.
‘That’s the thing. We should have been able to leave. The first warning came, and they just had us go in the hallway. After the warning, they had us go back to work. They never offered us to go home.
‘It hurts, ’cause I feel like we were neglected,’ he added.
The company has denied any allegations that staff were not allowed to leave or would be risking their job if they departed early
‘It’s absolutely untrue,’ said Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for the company. ‘We’ve had a policy in place since Covid began. Employees can leave any time they want to leave and they can come back the next day.’
‘Those protocols are in place and were followed,’ he said.
A 24-hour hotline has now been set up for employees to call should they wish to discuss hazard pay or grief counseling.
Clayton Cope, 29, (pictured) was among those killed when a series of twisters roared through the warehouse near St. Louis
Clayton’s sister, Rachel Cope (pictured), said she’s angry that Amazon didn’t allow its workers to go to an emergency shelter after the first siren sounded
Workers remove debris from Amazon’s fulfilment center after it was hit by the tornado
Cope’s sister expressed her fury with Amazon on a public Facebook post, where she demanded answers for the tragedy.
The story appears to be similar to what workers at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois encountered
The sister of a Navy veteran who was killed alongside five colleagues after a tornado destroyed the Edwardsville warehouse is slamming the online retail giant for choosing company productivity over employee safety.
Rachel Cope – whose older brother, Clayton Cope, 29, was among those killed when a series of twisters roared through the warehouse – said she’s angry and believes Amazon didn’t allow its workers to go to an emergency shelter after the first siren sounded.
‘I’d want people to know that he died saving the lives of people in that building because of Amazon’s negligence to take the tornado sirens seriously and choosing the productivity of their company over their employees,’ Cope told DailyMail.com.
‘My brother is a hero.’
Amazon’s 1.1 million square-foot distribution facility is shown before and after the storm.
‘Everyone knows that all Amazon cares about is productivity,’ she said. ‘My brother never would have died if this company actually gave 2 sh*** about their employees and got them to safety after the storm started to get bad and took it seriously,’ Cope wrote in a Facebook posting.
‘This never would have happened if they cared about lives over productivity and you all know that.’
An Amazon spokesperson said the site received tornado warnings between 8:06pm and 8:16pm on Friday, with site leaders directing people on site to immediately take shelter. The tornado struck the facility at 8:27 p.m.
Five other workers died at the facility after tornados ripped off its roof, causing 11-inch thick concrete walls longer than a football field to collapse.