With news of a tornado-producing storm coming their way on Friday, at least five employees at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory in western Kentucky say co-workers asked to leave their posts making scented candles and shelter at home. But according to NBC News, employees say they heard managers deny that request, demanding the facility’s 110 workers stay on through their shifts. Hours later, an outbreak of tornadoes killed at least eight at the facility and dozens more across the U.S.
“People had questioned if they could leave or go home,” McKayla Emery, a 21-year-old shift worker, told NBC News from her hospital bed, where she was recovering from injuries sustained during the disaster. The requests to leave began shortly after tornado sirens started blaring outside the factory around 5:30 p.m. “If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” she said of a manager’s conversation with four co-workers who wanted to get out. “I heard that with my own ears.” As the sirens began, workers sheltered in bathrooms and hallways, but once they believed the tornado watch was over, all the staff was reportedly sent back to work to meet the high demand for Christmas. But the gifts made on Friday never made it to the shelves, being flattened along with the building by a twister.
“It was indescribable,” Pastor Joel Cauley told the Kentucky News & Observer of the disaster scene. “It was almost like you were in a twilight zone. You could smell the aroma of candles, and you could hear the cries of people for help. Candle smells and all the sirens is not something I ever expected to experience at the same time.” As of Monday afternoon, eight workers remain missing in addition to the eight who were killed.
While Mayfield Consumer Products denied that their managers issued the ultimatum to stay, the candle factory is not alone as the site of allegations that bosses didn’t adequately protect their workers during the storms, which stretched over 200 miles.
In Edwardsville, Illinois, a tornado from the same stormfront collapsed an Amazon warehouse, killing at least six people. Amazon has a no-phones policy on its warehouse floors, but employees told Reuters they received emergency alerts on their cell phones from local authorities and sheltered in place. The company told Reuters that managers also got the alerts and directed people to safety. “After these deaths, there is no way in hell I am relying on Amazon to keep me safe,” a worker from a neighboring Amazon facility in Illinois told Bloomberg News, which also reported the company is reconsidering the policy. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos responded to the deaths on Saturday night, describing the “news from Edwardsville” as “tragic” hours. The condolences came hours after he posted a smiling selfie with the training crew for his rocket into space.