At least two people died and many are feared trapped after a “very severe weather event” destroyed part of an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Friday evening, the town’s police chief said.
“A good portion of the southern point of the building was destroyed,” Chief Mike Fillback told a news conference early Saturday.
He added that at least one person had died at the warehouse and two people were taken by helicopter to hospitals in the city of St. Louis, about 25 miles away. About 30 people who were in the building were taken by bus to the police station in nearby Pontoon Beach for evaluation, he said.
“It was a very severe weather event,” he said, adding that there was a lot of debris from the building which was predominantly constructed from steel and concrete.
The roof of the facility was ripped off and a wall about the length of a football field collapsed.
“Our prayers go out to those directly affected,” Fillback said.
It was not immediately clear whether the damage was caused by straight-line storms or a tornado, but the National Weather Service office near St. Louis reported “radar-confirmed tornadoes” in the Edwardsville area around the time of the collapse.
At least 100 emergency vehicles descended on the facility after the warehouse partially collapsed.
Rescue crews were still sorting through the rubble early Saturday and Fillback said the process could take several more hours. Cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move debris.
It is unclear how many people remain trapped inside the facility. Images from the scene show rows of emergency vehicles alongside piles of debris and rows of bare building pillars.
Amazon opened the facility, which includes two warehouses spanning 1.5 million square feet, in Edwardsville five years ago, according to the Bellville News-Democrat.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company was “deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado,” they added.
The death at the building is but one of at least 70 casualties feared after a storm caused a series of tornadoes to tear through five states from late Friday evening to early Saturday morning.
Elsewhere, tornadoes also hit a nursing home in Monette, Arkansas, and caused a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, to collapse, trapping workers inside.
Authorities estimate around 110 people were inside the factory when the tornado hit. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at least dozens of casualties were expected at the site.
“It’s very hard, really tough, and we’re praying for each and every one of those families,” he said at a news conference on Saturday morning.
Associated Press contributed.