MAYFIELD, Ky. — Darryl Johnson didn’t know what his sister did at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory or why she worked nights; he knew only that her husband dropped her off on Friday evening and that they never heard from her again.
He stood in a gravel lot next to the giant ruin of metal and wood, which just days ago was the candle factory where his sister, Janine Johnson-Williams, had clocked in for her shift. The factory where he works, 45 miles up the road, shut down when the storms were approaching, Mr. Johnson said. He could not find anyone in Mayfield to tell him anything.
Late Sunday evening, Mr. Johnson finally got word. His sister was dead.
Sunday was a day of wrenching discoveries across the middle of the country, where an outbreak of tornadoes on Friday night, including one that traveled more than 220 catastrophic miles, left a deep scar of devastation. But as work crews dug through ruins and small-town coroners counted the dead on Sunday, there was at least a glimmer of hope that the death toll may not end up being as enormous as initially feared.
On Sunday evening, Troy Propes, the chief executive of Mayfield Consumer Products, which runs the candle factory that was demolished by the tornado, and which many dread may account for the largest number of deaths in the storm, said in an interview that only eight people had been confirmed dead at the factory and another six remained missing.
frustration was growing about what transpired at the candle factory, which, in the initial estimates of the toll, accounted for a majority of the estimated deaths statewide.
Though officials said that many if not most workers at the factory had been sheltering in a designated place in the building when the tornado hit, some people asked why the factory stayed open well after warnings were raised about the severity of the storms.
The Mayfield Consumer Products factory was one of the largest employers in the county, though employment waxed and waned with layoffs in some years and labor shortages in others
advertising 10- and 12-hour shifts, starting at $8 an hour, with mandatory overtime “required frequently.” Several inmates from the Graves County jail were working there on Friday night as part of an inmate-to-work program. All survived the storm, according to the jail; a deputy from the jail did not.