At least six people have died after a tornado hit an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville Friday night, officials said Saturday.
Search and recovery efforts were still underway and expected to take three more days, said Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford. No more survivors are anticipated to be found.
Some 45 people are believed to have escaped the devastation, Whiteford said at an afternoon press conference. Many of them had minor injuries.
The winds were deemed to have been an EF3 tornado by the National Weather Service, which spent time on scene on Saturday.
The update on deaths came as authorities were working to notify family members before releasing more details.
Mayor Art Risavy spoke along with Police Chief Mike Fillback at a pre-dawn press conference at the Edwardsville Public Safety Building.
“Keep those affected by this tragedy in your thoughts and prayers,” Risavy said. “This will be ongoing for the next several days.”
The storm hit at 8:33 p.m. Friday, the chief said.
Video and photos from the scene showed the warehouse decimated, with long sections of wall and the roof collapsed. Approximately 150 yards of wall were affected.
“A good portion of the southern portion of the building was destroyed,” Fillback said.
Dozens of agencies from the bi-state area responded to the mass casualty event.
The warehouse is located less than a mile north of Interstate 270, just east and within view of 255, where spectators were pulling off to view the devastation.
Family members of employees were among those who gathered at the scene.
One witness interviewed by television station KMOV said cars had been overturned and even pushed into a pond near the building.
Crews found dozens of workers in and around the rubble. Workers are in the building at all hours and a normal shift would potentially have dozens of people present.
“There are challenges in trying to determine the number of people (who were there), because it’s not a set staff,” Fillback said at the earlier press conference. Amazon authorities were present and helping create a list of the workers.
At least one person was taken from the scene by helicopter to an unidentified St. Louis hospital.
Madison County Transit assisted by transporting about 30 of the workers to the Pontoon Beach Police Department where they were reunited with loved ones.
It was unknown just how much warning the workers might have gotten before the storm hit. Sirens were clearly being heard throughout the region for many minutes just after 8 p.m. The storm approached from the west where it also wreaked havoc in St. Charles County.
Fire departments were still on the scene, along with construction companies assisting with heavy equipment.
Fillback said first responders were met with substantial obstacles, including the large amount of water from the fire suppression system and the need to secure downed power lines.
Video footage captured by passersby clearly shows what appears to have been a funnel cloud in that area.
In 2017, Amazon told media that it employed some 2,200 people at the two fulfillment centers in Edwardsville, which had opened about a year earlier.
Image from Fox2 news