Kentucky tornado: Mayfield candle factory survivor recalls panic as tornado bore down

Twister ripped through Mayfield Consumer Products with 110 people inside as workers called loved ones to say goodbye

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Lindana Panameno hugs her daughter, Breyda, tightly. The 18-year-old buries her face into her mother’s shoulder in an embrace neither was sure would ever be felt again.

Ms Panameno, 35, was one of 110 workers inside a candle-making factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, when a powerful tornado hit the city, wiping out entire blocks.

The factory was obliterated and Ms Panameno was trapped under the rubble for hours.

“We panicked,” she said. “It was scary and I called 911. My co-workers said goodbye to their families, girlfriends, husbands and wives, everyone said goodbye because we [thought] we’d die here.”

In the darkness, Ms Panameno said she struggled to breathe and became gripped with fear after a colleague died in her arms.

After several hours under the suffocating debris, rescue workers pulled her to safety and took her to hospital.

At least eight people died in the collapse and several more remain unaccounted for.

For two days, Breyda did not know if her mother was dead or alive.

“Since I was little, she has been there for me,” Breyda told The National, fighting back tears.

“She's my mum, she's my auntie, she's my grandma, she's my father and I wouldn't be able to handle it if she wouldn't be here right now with us.”

Lindana Panameno hugs and kisses her daughter, Breyda. Ms Panameno survived the tornado that swept through Mayfield, Kentucky. Willy Lowry / The National

Why was the factory open?

Before the tornado, Mayfield Consumer Products was one of the biggest employers in south-western Kentucky and the lead-up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year.

The company produced candles, candle accessories and home fragrances. At the site of the now-collapsed building, the sweet smell of wax still wafts through the air as dozens of emergency workers sift through the rubble looking for survivors.

“We’re heart-broken about this and our immediate efforts are to assist those affected by this terrible disaster,” said Mayfield Consumer Products chief executive Troy Propes.

“Our company is family owned and our employees, some who have worked with us for many years, are cherished.”

Some are questioning why the plant was open despite tornado warnings.

In an interview on Fox News, Mr Propes defended keeping employees at the factory on Friday night.

“Everyone was aware of bad weather. But as we’re all taught, even as children, the first thing you do is, don’t go get in your car,” said Mr Propes, who went on to say management had instructed everyone to go to designated safe places in the factory.

Mayfield Consumer Products is not the only company to come under scrutiny for keeping employees at work on Friday night: six people also died in an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois

Ms Panameno is not angry with Mayfield Consumer Products. She said in the four months she has worked for the company, there have been several other tornado warnings, never with such tragic consequences.

She said she is happy because the company has offered her work at one of their other facilities, meaning she can keep providing for her daughter.

Updated: December 15, 2021, 6:32 AM
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