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Severe weather devastated the Midwest and the South overnight

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Last night, severe weather, including tornadoes, devastated parts of the Midwest and the South. The governor of Kentucky says it's likely that as many as a hundred people could be confirmed to be killed by the storms.

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ANDY BESHEAR: It has been one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history, and some areas have been hit in ways that are hard to put into words.

SIMON: NPR's David Schaper joins us. David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: What do we know about the storm system and where it hit?

SCHAPER: Well, you know, the devastation is really far and wide. This is a storm system that was fueled by what meteorologists call that classic clash of unseasonably warm and humid air of the south and cold air from the north. It developed west of the Mississippi River in a long line that kind of stretches from Arkansas up into Missouri and beyond. And that line of thunderstorms just swept from the west to the east and northeast into Tennessee, Kentucky and southern Illinois and Indiana. Tornado watches and warnings were even in play here all the way up in the Chicago area. And there are reports of dozens of tornadoes, and the most severe of them appear to have hit Western Kentucky.

SIMON: Governor Beshear predicted just a devastating-sounding death toll. Do they seem to be concentrated in any specific areas?

SCHAPER: Yeah. You know, the city of Mayfield, Ky., is a place that Governor Beshear says appears to have been among the most hard-hit and may have suffered mass casualties as a tornado appears to have completely demolished a candle factory there.

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BESHEAR: There were about 110 people in it at the time that the tornado hit it. We believe we'll lose at least dozens of those individuals. It is tragic.

SCHAPER: Scott, there are also reports of significant damage and severe injuries and loss of life in Arkansas, where a nursing home was hit and may have collapsed, outside of Edwardsville, Ill., which is just a little ways east of St. Louis, Mo., where an Amazon warehouse partially collapsed. There are also reports of devastation coming in from other areas as well.

SIMON: And what efforts are underway to try and get help to victims?

SCHAPER: Yeah, emergency responders have been working through the night and into the morning to search through the rubble of damaged and destroyed buildings in all of these areas. There are crews out there working to clear the roadways of downed trees and downed power lines and overturned vehicles and other debris. I mean, that's one of the biggest challenges that the search and rescue teams often have is just getting to the areas of where the most severe damage may be. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has called up the National Guard to help in those efforts.

And I should mention that there's also, you know, like tens of thousands of people without electricity, and utility crews are out and about trying to fix and replace downed power lines and power poles. That's a process that could take several days, if not weeks, and becomes really urgent if the weather turns suddenly colder.

SIMON: Yeah. And, well, I think the indications are that as the sun begins to come up in the central time zone, we might begin to see more of the devastation in person and have a better handle on it.

SCHAPER: Absolutely. And I think you'll start to see, you know, reports from other areas far and wide. I mean, this really was a massive system, and it continues moving to the east. So I wouldn't be surprised to hear reports in Indiana, Ohio and, you know, other parts - Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee.

SIMON: NPR's David Schaper, thanks so much.

SCHAPER: My pleasure, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.