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At least 6 people died after tornado struck Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville

Workers attempt to clear debris as part of a search and rescue operation on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at an Amazon Distribution Hub in Edwardsville, Illinois. Violent storms, some producing tornado activity, ripped through the Midwest on Friday night, killing at least two in the warehouse.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Workers attempt to clear debris as part of a search and rescue operation on Saturday at an Amazon Distribution Hub in Edwardsville.

Updated Sunday 9 a.m. with comments from Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Officials said Saturday at least six people were killed when a tornado hit an Amazon warehouse Friday night in Edwardsville. They don’t know how many people might be unaccounted for but said they don’t expect to find additional survivors.

Local authorities have not released the identities of the people who died. A seventh person was airlifted to a St. Louis area hospital with injuries. Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said a total of 45 workers survived.

He gave additional details about the damage, rescue effort and death toll during a news conference in Edwardsville with other officials, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

About 150 yards of the large warehouse on Gateway Commerce Drive collapsed, according to Whiteford, who’s leading the recovery effort for the city. Steel support pillars stand exposed after the walls and roof caved in.

The St. Louis office of the National Weather Service said Saturday that they found “at least EF-3 damage” at the Amazon facility, noting their investigation was ongoing. EF-5 is the most severe rating for a tornado based on the damage it causes, according to the federal agency.

The St. Louis office later added that top wind speeds were estimated to be around 155 mph.

Search efforts continued at the site Saturday and were expected to take roughly three more days, according to Whiteford.

On Saturday morning, bystanders and reporters were kept back on Gateway Commerce Drive outside the warehouse’s large parking lot. Tow trucks were removing cars from the lot, some of them badly damaged. People sat in parked cars along the road throughout the morning.

One family said they were looking for their missing relative’s car among those still in the parking lot to know if he made it out. Others said they drove to the site because they wanted to see the damage for themselves.

Whiteford said authorities don’t know how many people might be unaccounted for because Amazon doesn’t know how many people were in the warehouse at the time it collapsed. The tornado hit during a shift change, he said. It happened about 8:30 p.m. Friday, around the time the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area.

Amazon issued the following statement about the devastating tornado: “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL,” the company stated. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the storm. We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”

Whiteford said the first Edwardsville fire unit was on scene within six minutes of getting reports that people were trapped and injured.

“We started search and recovery immediately,” he said. “We had some police officers that helped pull people from the rubble along with some of the workers from Amazon that got the initial people out.”

He said the walls on both sides of the warehouse had collapsed inward and the roof caved in.

“Most of the weight of the building landed centrally into the building,” Whiteford said. “These walls are made out of 11-inch thick concrete, and they’re about 40 feet tall, so a lot of weight from that came down.”

Edwardsville Police Chief Michael Fillback initially told reporters at a Saturday morning news conference that at least two people had died. Officials later announced the death toll was at least six people.

Anyone who is missing a loved one can call the Edwardsville Police Department at 618-656-2131.

“Everyone assumes that they’ll be safe at work,” Pritzker said during Saturday’s news conference. “Families say goodbye in a routine fashion when their loved ones go off to their jobs. We don’t think that they’ll never come home. It’s devastating, and I cannot imagine the pain that you are feeling at this moment. ... This is a difficult end to a difficult year.”

The Belleville News-Democrat is a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Kelsey Landis is an Illinois state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.