Death toll from record tornadoes in Kentucky expected to exceed 100

The death toll from record tornadoes that swept across Kentucky over the weekend is expected to exceed 100, with dozens still unaccounted for as crews search the wreckage.

The governor of Kentucky has said Friday's tornado system was "the deadliest to ever run through" the US state.

On Saturday, Andy Beshear said more than 70 people were killed by the tornadoes and declared a state of emergency in Kentucky.

One tornado that tore through four states over four hours, is believed to be the longest distance for a tornado in US history.

“This is the deadliest tornado event we have ever had…I’ve got towns that are gone, that are just, I mean, gone,” added Beshear.

Beshear said the path of devastation was about 227 miles (365km) long, which, if confirmed, would surpass the 218-mile so-called Tri-State tornado in 1925, which killed at least 695 people and destroyed 15,000 homes across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

Mayfield Candle factory devastation

President Joe Biden has approved a state of emergency declaration in Kentucky, adding federal resources to boost the state’s activation of more than 180 national guard members as well as state police.

“I promise you, whatever is needed – whatever is needed – the federal government is going to find a way to provide it,” Biden said on Saturday, adding that he would visit the affected areas once it was clear he was “not going to get in the way of the rescue and recovery”.

Asked if he thought the intensity of the storms was related to climate crisis, Biden said: “All I know is that the intensity of the weather across the board has some impact as a consequence of the warming of the planet. The specific impact on these specific storms, I can’t say at this point.”

He has asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate whether climate change played a role in the unusual tornado occurrence.

Meanwhile, temperatures hit an all time low in Mayfield, Kentucky, a small city largely levelled by winds estimated at up to 200mph. Survivors were struggling Sunday with lack of power and running water.

Mayfield’s mayor, Kathy Stewart O’Nan, said of her town: “It looks as if a bomb has dropped on it. We hope there are still rescues to be made. We fear that it is now just recovery.”

Weather researcher at Northern Illinois University,Victor Gensini said that spring is the main season for tornadoes and this latest event was very unusual coming in December, when colder weather normally limits tornadoes.

Illinois was hit as well and six people were killed in the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, with another injured worker airlifted to a hospital.

The US uniquely experiences more than 1,200 tornadoes annually, more than four times the number in other countries around the world where they occur, combined, according to experts.