Amazon workers trapped during deadly tornado had just minutes of warning before roof collapsed, company says

The collapsed roof of an distribution centre after tornadoes
The site of a roof collapse at an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois a day after a series of tornadoes dealt a blow to several U.S. states.

  • Amazon workers had minutes of warning before a tornado ripped through the warehouse, the company said.
  • The Illinois facility got tornado warnings Friday between 8:06 p.m. and 8:16 p.m. At 8:27 p.m., the tornado struck.
  • Six workers were confirmed dead after the collapse, local police had announced.

The Amazon employees who were working at an Illinois warehouse when a deadly tornado tore through the facility had just minutes of warning before the roof of the building collapsed, the e-commerce giant said Monday. 

The company said that the Amazon delivery station in the city of Edwardsville received tornado warnings between 8:06 p.m. and 8:16 p.m. on Friday and site leaders directed workers inside to “immediately take shelter.”

Minutes later, at 8:27 p.m., the devastating tornado roared through the 1.1 million-square-foot facility, causing the roof to collapse, Amazon said. 

Six workers were confirmed dead after the collapse, local police had announced. 

According to Amazon, the tornado appeared to have formed in the parking lot of the facility, ripped through the warehouse, and then disappeared in an “incredibly fast” amount of time. 

Management at the warehouse worked to get employees inside into a tornado shelter at the site and the “majority” of workers did take shelter there, the company said. 

“There was a small group who took shelter in a part of the building that was then directly impacted by the tornado, and this is where most of the tragic loss of life occurred,” Amazon said.

The victims were identified as Austin J. McEwen, 26; Deandre S. Morrow, 28; Kevin D. Dickey, 62; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29; Etheria S. Hebb, 24; and 46-year-old Larry E. Virden. 

Forty-five people made it out of the wreckage safely, officials have said. 

“My heart is broken,” Emily Epperson, 23, a driver at the Edwardsville warehouse and friend of McEwen, who was also a driver, told Insider on Monday. “I’m a little at a loss for words.”

Epperson had planned to pick up an extra shift on Friday, but “at the last moment” did not, sparing herself from the disaster. 

“In Illinois, we have these tornadoes and these random storms all of the time, so I don’t think anyone really could have imagined the severity of it,” she said. “I think it was just such a regular day to everyone that no one even thought twice until the tornado sirens went off.”

Epperson said that she heard from other co-workers who were at the warehouse that night that when the tornado sirens went off “everyone was told to go to a storm shelter that we have there.”

“Some people chose to go home and some people chose to go to the shelter,” she said. “I’m sure there were some people that didn’t make it or didn’t know what to do.”

One of Epperson’s co-workers told her that he “witnessed the roof being peeled off of the building and we believe that’s what caused one of the walls to collapse initially.”

Epperson said she went to the Amazon warehouse the next day when her pal, McEwen, had been missing for about 13 hours. 

“Everything was in ruins,” Epperson said, adding that she learned from McEwen’s best friend while she was at the site that McEwen was among the dead. 

Speaking of McEwen, Epperson said, “He would light up any room that he walked into and he was the most down to earth person you would ever meet.”

“He was a very good friend, co-worker and person in general,” she said. 

In a statement to Insider, an Amazon spokesperson said, “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado. 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,” the company said.

Read the original article on Business Insider