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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear discusses state's recovery after storms


Search and rescue efforts are continuing a day after dozens of tornadoes caused severe death and destruction in the Midwest and South. Whole towns have been reduced to two-dimensional landscapes consisting of timbers and fallen bricks, and countless lives and livelihoods have been lost. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has been touring some of the most devastated areas. He joins us now. Governor Beshear, thanks for being here.

ANDY BESHEAR: Thanks for having us on. It's a tough morning in Kentucky, but we are digging out.

GONYEA: So one of the places you visited yesterday was Dawson Springs. It's the hometown of your father, who was also a governor. What did you see there?

BESHEAR: I saw almost half the town wiped out. It is a special place. It's about 3,700 people, and the devastation is just indescribable. A block from my grandparents' house there, everything is just gone - gone. I'd like to say we're going door to door in places, but there are no doors. That community is going to lose a number of people. I know our death toll is already above 80, likely over 100 - by far the most devastating tornado event we've ever seen.

GONYEA: And what are local residents there and the other places you've been touring - what are they telling you?

BESHEAR: How - they're telling us that everything they have is gone. But any of them that I'm talking to are all blessed and say they're blessed to be alive given this event. Everybody is doing their best to help out one another. We are good people. We have opened about 11 shelters. Only six remain open because people are opening their homes. But right now everybody's looking for people that they care about, trying to make sure that people are OK. I just learned in Muhlenberg County that my uncle lost two of his first cousins. It's really hit all of us.

GONYEA: How are the rescue efforts proceeding in that candle factory in nearby Mayfield? People have seen that - those images. It collapsed. Dozens were trapped. What do you know about that at this point?

BESHEAR: I was there yesterday, and it's even worse than the images. It's 15-plus feet of steel, of cars that were in the parking lot that went through the roof of drums, of corrosive chemicals. There were about 110 people who were working there when it hit. I think we've gotten about 40 out alive, and we haven't had a live rescue since about 3:30 yesterday morning. It'd take a miracle at this point, but we're praying for it.

GONYEA: I know you've talked to President Biden. What sort of help is he offering?

BESHEAR: Anything that we need. I talked to him three separate times yesterday, talked to the secretary of Homeland Security, talked to the head of FEMA. I think Senator McConnell and I both agree that we're getting everything the federal government's got. And all over, other states are sending help. Other communities in Kentucky are sending help. You know, this is the longest, I think, tornado touchdown in history - over 227 miles. But 200 were in Kentucky. And so we want to thank the rest of America for everything they're doing to help us out.

GONYEA: Just three days ago, before these tornadoes tore through, you declared a state of emergency over the nursing shortage due to COVID. Is that affecting hospitals' attempts and ability to attend to victims of the storm?

BESHEAR: Well, we are in a crisis on nursing, from both a pre-existing shortage to burnout during COVID. But these are the times that everybody rallies together. The local hospitals have had calls from all over Kentucky offering help. We've been able to move people who need a higher level of care to other places. You know, anybody who's suffering from injury, we are getting them help if we can get to them. You know, this occurred in the middle of the night. It did not - knocked down tree lines. It made getting to some people so difficult. So I am so grateful for everybody who was out in the middle of that storm doing everything they could to get to everybody they could reach.

GONYEA: Well, I'm sure you know many Americans' hearts are with the residents of your state. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, thank you for taking some time for us this morning.

BESHEAR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF YUSSEF DAYES TRIO'S "ODYSSEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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