By STEVEN BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — President Joe Biden announced he plans to visit Wednesday the western Kentucky communities devastated by tornadoes late Friday that have killed at least 64 people across the state.
At least four tornadoes hit parts of the state, including one that touched down for more than 200 miles after causing destruction in three other states. The death toll is likely to rise as a somber Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters at least 105 residents remain missing.
Those who perished in the storm range from five months in age to 86 years old. The death toll may not be finalized for another week, according to state officials.
“We will welcome him here,” Gov. Beshear said of the president’s upcoming visit. “We will thank him for his help, and sadly, we’ll show him the worst tornado damage imaginable, certainly the worst in our history.”
The governor also noted that beginning today,, flags will be flown at half staff for a week to honor those who died or were otherwise impacted by the storms.
Preliminary indications from the National Weather Service rated the 200-mile tornado as an EF3, which means it had peak winds ranging from 158 to 206 mph. The areas hit hardest by the storms include Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 people, and Dawson Springs, the birthplace of Gov. Beshear’s father – former Gov. Steve Beshear.
In Mayfield, the storm blew off the clock tower from the Graves County Courthouse and destroyed countless other buildings. That included a Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, where 110 workers were fulfilling Christmas orders when the storm ripped through the area.
Eight people from the company have been confirmed dead, with 94 having been accounted for so far, Gov. Beshear said.
“We feared much, much worse,” he added.
About 28,500 homes in the affected communities remain without power, said Michael Dossett, the director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management. However, he added there are 20 main transmission lines still down. Those lines provide service from the power plants.
“The restoration will be weeks to months for these,” Mr. Dossett said.
Over the weekend, the state launched a relief fund to help those affected by the storm. Through Monday morning, more than 31,000 donations have been made and contributions to the fund eclipsing more than $4 million.
Donations can be made at teamwkyrelieffund.ky.gov.
Gov. Beshear announced the first allocations from that fund during his briefing Monday morning. The fund will cover $5,000 in burial expenses for each family who lost someone from the storms. The governor asked that funeral homes not to charge any families more than that amount.
No one will need to fill out an application for the funds. Gov. Beshear said the state’s Office of Vital Statistics will identify the victims from its records and reach out to those families.
The governor’s office and the state’s attorney general have also taken steps to prevent price gouging in affected communities as residents and businesses look to rebuild.
On Sunday, President Biden declared the region a major disaster area, with funding available for people in Caldwell, Fulton, Graves, Hopkins, Marshall, Muhlenberg, Taylor and Warren counties. On Monday, they could start to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.