Officials confirmed that at least six people were killed when an EF-3 tornado caused an Amazon warehouse to partially collapse in Edwardsville, Illinois.
This tornado was a part of a storm system that left at least 100 people dead in six states; Illinois, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee, as Essence previously reported.
Fire Chief James Whiteford stated during a news conference on Saturday that 45 people survived the ordeal and were able to escape, after 150 yards of the building collapsed on Friday.
A local coroner identified the victims as St. Louis, Missouri residents Deandre S. Morrow, 28 and Ehteria S. Hebb, 24; Carlyle, Illinois resident, Kevin D. Dickey, 62; Alton, Illinois resident Clayton Lynn Cope, 29; and Collinsville, Illinois resident Larry E. Virden, 46. An Amazon cargo driver identified as 26-year-old Austin J. McEwen also died while he tried to take shelter in a warehouse bathroom, CNN reported.
According to Reuters, Amazon warehouse employees received a tornado warning approximately 40 minutes before the tornado hit the building. Employees stated Amazon managers told them that they could not leave and needed to take shelter in the building’s restrooms.
Amazon warehouse worker David Kosiak, 26, told CNN that when he arrived in the building, he heard people shouting, “Shelter in place” and was instructed to take shelter in a warehouse bathroom.
“It sounded like a train came through the building. The ceiling tiles came flying down. It [was] very loud. They made us shelter in place ‘til we left – it was at least two and a half hours in there.”
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado,” NBC Chicago reported.
She added, “We’re continuing to support our employees and partners in the area.”
Whiteford stated that rescue teams will continue to search for survivors amongst the rubble, although he believes it is unlikely that they will find anyone else alive, the New York Post reported.
Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is condemning Amazon for forcing its employees to work during the tornado warning.
While speaking to CNN, Appelbaum said, “This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this. Amazon cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people’s lives at risk. Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices.”