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Death toll likely to near 100 from storms in Kentucky


Severe weather struck the Midwest and South last night, including tornadoes. The storms wrecked buildings, injured dozens of people. Kentucky's governor, Andy Beshear, says the death toll in his state alone could reach as many as 100. We're joined now by Ronnie Noel. He's a magistrate in Hopkins County. Magistrate Noel, thanks so much for being with us.

RONNIE NOEL: Thank you.

SIMON: I get...

NOEL: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Thank you, sir. I gather you went out last night after the storm hit. Tell us where you went and what you saw.

NOEL: Yes. We left Madisonville. I was with the public works director here in Hopkins County. We took a loader down to Dawson Springs. Total devastation there - lots and lots of power lines, trees everywhere, homes destroyed, demolished. There was loss of life. I'm not sure the number. And all the first responders are working now that it's daylight to double-check these homes, make sure no one is trapped or still in those homes.

SIMON: I gather you're at the emergency center in Madisonville now.

NOEL: Yes.

SIMON: What do you hear from people there? What do you hear from local officials? What's the scene like there?

NOEL: The head of the EMA is surrounding counties like Webster County, Daviess County, Union County. They're sending their road crews, equipment to Hopkins County. And they're developing a plan - No. 1, Dawson Springs, most heavily hit and the Barnsley area just south of Earlington, north of Mortons Gap. There's a train derailment. R. J. Corman is already here with lots and lots of equipment to upright that train. But they're developing a plan to get the roads cleared and people taken care of.

SIMON: So you're seeing people who have been - they can't be in their homes. They must be hungry. They must be anxious. What...

NOEL: I...

SIMON: Yes. Please tell us.

NOEL: I'm sure they are. I know there's been calls made to the Baptist Disaster Relief team. Years ago, there was a tornado in Hopkins County. And they came in and set up a tent kitchen and fed people for several days. And we're hoping that can happen here soon. A lot of people were sent to Pennyrile State Forest Lodge for - that was last night...

SIMON: Yeah.

NOEL: ...For housing, you know, to stay dry and warm. And I don't know what's happening now, but I'm sure...

SIMON: Yeah.

NOEL: ...Some shelters are being opened throughout the county to accommodate these people.

SIMON: Mr. Noel, the governor of Kentucky says that the death toll might be - let me just say - very high indeed. This is a devastating event for you and your community, isn't it?

NOEL: It is. It's really sad. And, you know, there's loss of life in Dawson, and it's just totally devastating for the whole county.

SIMON: Ronnie Noel is a local official in Hopkins County, Ky. Good luck to you and every citizen there, and thank you. We...

NOEL: We ask the country to pray for Hopkins County and Dawson Springs and Barnsley.

SIMON: OK. Well, thank you. I'm sure people will. Thank you so much, Mr. Noel.

NOEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APHEX TWIN'S "JYNWEYTHEK YLOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.