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Six dead in Illinois Amazon warehouse collapse following tornado

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF3 tornado touched down at the facility.

The number of people who were killed after a tornado destroyed part of an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Friday night has risen to six, officials said Saturday.

The National Weather Service confirmed that an EF3 tornado touched down at the facility, causing about 150 yards of the building to collapse, Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said at a news conference Saturday evening.

Six people were killed, one was airlifted and 45 others were rescued safely, he said.

Authorities identified the victims Sunday as Austin J. McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville; Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 34, of St. Louis; Larry E. Virden, 46, Collinsville, Illinois; and Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois.

Whiteford said that the search had now into a recovery mission and that crews are expected to work during the daylight over the next three days to recover everyone who may have been trapped.

Officials do not know how many people might still be in the building. Whiteford said the warehouse, which had been in the middle of a shift change, did not have a count of how many employees were there when the storm hit.

Emergency crews respond at a damaged Amazon.com warehouse after a tornado passed through Edwardsville, Ill., on Friday.Chris Phillips / Maverick Media Group via Reuters

At Saturday evening's news conference, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker addressed the families of the people killed in the storm.

"There are no words to assuage the pain of losing a loved one and even fewer when that cost and that loss comes so suddenly," Pritzker said. "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."

He said no more deaths or injuries reported from the storm.

Prtizker said that he spoke with Amazon and implored it to assist with the community recovery effort and that he was told it would do so.

Amazon founder and Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos said Saturday on Twitter that "the news from Edwardsville is tragic."

"We’re heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones," he said. "All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis. We extend our fullest gratitude to all the incredible first responders who have worked so tirelessly at the site."

At least 100 emergency vehicles converged on the facility after the partial collapse.

Rescue crews sorted through the rubble early Saturday, and cranes and backhoes were brought in to help move debris.

Images from the scene show rows of emergency vehicles alongside piles of debris and rows of bare building pillars.

The storm destroyed part of the building the length of a football field. The 40-foot tall concrete walls collapsed inward on both sides, and the roof collapsed downward, Whiteford said.

Police Chief Mike Fillback said earlier Saturday, “It was a very severe weather event,” adding that there was a lot of debris from the building, which was constructed mainly of steel and concrete.

Amazon opened the facility, which includes two warehouses spanning 1.5 million square feet, five years ago, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.

The Amazon facility was used to divide orders into different routes and load packages into vans to be delivered, Whiteford said.

Dozens of people are feared dead, including at least 70 in Kentucky, after a storm caused a series of tornadoes to tear through five states late Friday and early Saturday.

Elsewhere, tornadoes hit a nursing home in Monette, Arkansas, and caused a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, to collapse, trapping workers inside.

Authorities estimate that 110 people were in the candle factory when the tornado hit. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said dozens of deaths were expected.

"It's very hard, really tough, and we're praying for each and every one of those families," he said at a news conference Saturday morning.