Deaths confirmed after tornado hits Amazon warehouse in Illinois

At least six people were killed at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois after a direct hit from a tornado caused much of the building to collapse on Friday night, officials said.

Forty-five people have been confirmed to have exited the building, Edwardsville, Ill. Fire chief James Whiteford said at a press conference on Saturday. Authorities said they didn’t know how many people were inside the warehouse when the storm hit, so they didn’t know how many people they were looking for.

Edwardsville is about 25 miles east of St. Louis, and the Amazon building is in a distribution center west of town. When the tornado swept around 8:35 p.m., the walls of the building collapsed and the roof collapsed, Chief Whiteford said, adding that the walls were about 40 feet high and were concrete 11 inches thick. .

“At this point we have moved on to search and retrieve,” the chef said. “We don’t expect anyone to survive at this point.” He said search efforts will continue for the next three days during the day.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said he spoke with President Biden and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and also spoke to an official at Amazon.

Mr Pritzker said he urged the company “to provide all assistance to this community, which it has said it intends to do.”

Alonzo Harris, an Amazon delivery driver, completed his route Friday night and entered the warehouse when an alarm started ringing on his work phone. A colleague was running around and shouting at drivers that this was not an exercise, he said. They had to get out of their vehicles and seek shelter, he remembers, shouting.

“She’s put herself in danger,” said Mr. Harris, a 44-year-old St. Louis resident who has worked at Amazon since September. “She saved my life.”

Moments after Mr. Harris entered the shelter, there was a “big roar” and the building began to shake, he said.

“I felt like the ground was pulling away from the ground,” he said. “I felt the wind blow and saw debris flying all over the place, and people started screaming and screaming and the lights went out.”

Mr. Harris compared the sensation to the earthquakes in California, where he grew up. “When the ground was shaking, that’s what it felt like,” he said. “I’m not afraid of anything, but it was scary.”

On Saturday morning, workers appeared to be using a crane to clear the wreckage from the site. Heavy machinery was brought in to move the collapsed walls, and rescue teams were checking the interiors of vehicles that had been crushed by the walls.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family have died as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, Ill.,” Said Kelly Nantel, Amazon spokesperson on Saturday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones and all those affected by the tornado.”

Amazon opened two warehouses in Edwardsville in 2016, employing about 2,200 people, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2017.

When Amazon opened the facility, “it put us on the map,” said Walter Williams, the economic development coordinator for Madison County, which includes Edwardsville, on Saturday. “When more and more people saw Amazon here, they started to say, ‘We have to look over there. “”