6 Deaths Confirmed After Tornado Hits Amazon Warehouse in Illinois
Witnesses said workers were caught off guard and had to seek shelter quickly.
Six Amazon workers were confirmed dead on Saturday after a tornado hit an Edwardsville, Illinois warehouse, tearing off its roof and causing the collapse of "11-inch thick concrete walls longer than football fields," Reuters reports.
Amazon workers identified as dead by the local coroner were Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis, Missouri; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 24, of St. Louis, Missouri; and Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Illinois. Amazon cargo driver Austin J. McEwen, 26, died trying to shelter in the warehouse's bathroom with colleagues, a coworker says.
According to Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford, 45 people escaped the building, and one person was airlifted to a regional hospital for treatment. Authorities no longer believe they will find more survivors and have begun recovery efforts.
On Friday night, tornadoes tore through six states across the central and southern U.S., and the death toll has so far exceeded 90.
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Witnesses said workers were caught off guard and had to seek shelter quickly. "I had a coworker that was sending me pictures when they were taking shelter in the bathroom, basically anywhere they could hide," said Alexander Bird, who works at a warehouse across the street.
Amazon said all employees were told to move to a designated shelter-in-place location once the site learned of the tornado warning in the area. The company also said that it gives emergency-response training to new employees and reinforces it throughout the year.
Still, the tragedy has prompted some to bring up the tech giant's alleged mishandling of dangerous situations in the past. "This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this," said Stuart Appelbaum, President of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "Amazon cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people's lives at risk. Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices."
Amazon CEO Andy Jassey tweeted that the company was "heartbroken over the loss" of its team members and was working closely with local officials and first responders. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos shared a similar message on Twitter. "All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis," Bezos stated.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel also expressed the company's sympathies. "We're deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL," Nantel said. "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."
In addition to donating $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation, Amazon is providing supplies and services to employees and partners, contacting the victims' families to determine how the company can offer support and assisting emergency responders as needed.
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