Extreme weather events like the fatal storms that ripped through America over the weekend are the “new normal”, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has warned.
Speaking ahead of a visit to the worst-hit state of Kentucky, Deanne Criswell, the country’s top emergency official, said on Sunday that climate change is “the crisis of our generation”, adding that this year’s storms have been “unprecedented” in scale.
“This is going to be our new normal,” Ms Criswell told CNN.
Tornadoes are usually limited by cold weather in December. However, last week’s weather defied the norm, with several dozen twisters forming in six states between Friday evening and Saturday morning.
One of them had a path of approximately 200 miles, which could make it the longest single-track twister, according to US officials. The current record is held by a 1925 twister which inflicted damage across three states.
It is thought that the latest “supercell” tornado started in northeast Arkansas before sweeping through Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.
After deaths occurred in states including Illinois and Arkansas, US president Joe Biden said on Saturday that the weather events likely constituted “one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history”.
Kentucky has the highest death toll, with 64 confirmed fatalities and a further 105 people still missing. Later that total was raised to 74.
Fighting back tears on Monday morning, the state’s governor Andy Beshear admitted that the true number of victims would “undoubtedly” increase.
“It may be weeks before we have counts on both deaths and levels of destruction,” he said, confirming the victims ranged from five months to 86 years in age.
“You’re not supposed to lose people like this, and to not know and not have the information has got to make it that much harder,” he added.
Eight people died and another eight remain unaccounted for after a tornado destroyed a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, on Friday night.
Asked if the dozens of people inside the factory had been given sufficient warning about the storm, Gov Beshear said it was too early to talk about “changes that ought to be made in the future”.
Thousands of people remain without power and water in some affected areas.