By Stephanie Malench
Severe weather that passed through the Midwest and Southeast on December 10 spawned a tornado that destroyed an Amazon warehouse at Gateway Commerce Center in Edwardsville, killing 6 people and injuring an unknown number of individuals.
The one million square foot warehouse located at 3077 Gateway Commerce Center Drive South and known as DLI4 to Amazon employees, was made of 11 foot thick concrete walls that were 40 feet tall that collapsed in on each other, causing the roof to cave in.
Amazon also operates in two other warehouses in Edwardsville, STL4 at 3036-3098 Gateway Commerce Center Drive South and Amazon Loading at 4105 Oldenburg Rd.
Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford reported in a press conference held December 11 that a 911 call was received at 8:35 p.m. and the first emergency response units were on the scene six minutes later.
Search and rescue began immediately with police officers and other Amazon employees helping pull people from the ruble.
Madison County Transit helped bus 30 employees whose vehicles were damaged to the Pontoon Beach Police Department to be reunited with family members.
It was estimated that approximately 50 employees were in the building at the time. An exact count was not available according to Whiteford because it was shift change and as drivers pulled their vans back into the building from making deliveries they would exit the building and leave in their own vehicles.
As of a press conference held at 5 p.m. on December 11, the operation had switched from search and rescue to search and recover.
Edwardsville Mayor Art Risavy asked for prayers not only for his tight knit community but for communities across Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee that were also hit hard by tornados that evening.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced at the press conference that 6 people were confirmed dead and one was injured and flown to a St. Louis Hospital for treatment. On December 12, the names of those killed were released to the public: Austin J. Mc Ewen, 26, Edardsville; Larry E. Virden, 46, Collinsville; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, Alton; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle; Etheria S. Hebb, 34, St. Louis; and Deandre S. Morrow, 28, St. Louis.
Seriously injured was Craig Yost, 39, who was flown to Saint Louis University Hospital and said in an interview with KMOV that he “had a broken pelvic bone, tail bone, broken thigh bone near the hip that required three screws, bruising everywhere…swelling all around my head because the concrete…was like a slow trash compactor”.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, Tweeted at 7:59 p.m. on December 11, nearly 23 hours after the tornado, “The news from Edwardsville is tragic. We’re heartborken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones. (1/2) (2/2) All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis. We extend our fullest gratitude to all the incredible first responders who have worked so tirelessly at this site”.
By December 12, Amazon had committed $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation relief fund for victims and their families.
Amazon officials were present at a December 13 press conference where they addressed concerns that local officials and emergency officials had not been able to answer at the previous two press conferences on December 11.
There were 46 people onsite at the time the tornado hit, “seven of which were Amazon employees and 39 were partners”.
Workers receive emergency response training and participate in drills throughout the year. They are allowed to keep their phones on them as long as they follow safety restrictions while working.
Site leaders got the tornado warnings between 8:06 and 8:16 .m. and directed people to take shelter until the tornado strike at 8:27 p.m.
Investigations are currently underway by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as “an investigation into the building’s design, plus state and local building codes, to makes sure they are armed for a changing climate that now brings Sprin-like temperatures and deadly tornados at times when there used to be snow, according to Governor Pritzker”.
There were no other injuries or deaths from the Edwardsville tornado or any of the others in Illinois.
According to the National Weather Service report, the EF 3 tornado traveled 3.65 miles with maximum winds of 150 miles per hour. “The tornado touched down just to the northeast of the I-270/I-255 interchange at 8:28 PM CST. The tornado moved northeast and intensified rapidly after crossing I-255…. The tornado weakened as it moved northeast across Sand Road, where it destroyed an unanchored mobile home and an outbuilding, snapped trees, and downed power poles. Damage in this area was rated EF-1.
“Further northeast, the tornado crossed South University Drive where it snapped a power pole and downed additional trees. It then crossed into the Sunset Hills Country Club subdivision. Throughout a portion of the subdivision, there were downed trees, snapped branches, and superficial home damage consisting of missing shingles or small portions of roof covering. The tornado weakened further as it moved northeast, and lifted as it crossed Butler Boulevard [near Illinois Route 157 and Meridian Rd] at 8:32 PM CST.”
Debris from the Amazon warehouse is reported to have been found along the entire track of this storm, as far away as Shelbyville.