Kentucky workers who survived tornado say candle factory should have been closed that night

For Kyanna Parsons-Perez and Andrea Miranda, last Friday will be a night they’ll never forget. Despite tornado warnings, both were set to work the night shift at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in southwestern Kentucky. That night, both women were trapped for two hours after a tornado ripped through the production plant and the building collapsed.

Video transcript

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- The destruction was instantaneous, as many homes were tossed in the air in last weekend's tornado outbreak across six states in the midwest.

- Devastation in Mayfield, Kentucky after a tornado ripped through that town of about 10,000 people.

- Governor, thanks for joining us. I heard you say late today that this could very well be the worst tornado event in your state's history.

ANDY BESHEAR: It is the worst tornado event. 200 miles just in Kentucky of pure devastation.

JERICKA DUNCAN: Scores of people remain unaccounted for tonight with dwindling hope of finding them alive.

- But those who survived, many of whom are left with only the clothes on their back, are now facing a daunting path toward recovery.

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ANDREA MIRANDA: And I just hear everybody screaming, yelling, I'm going to die. And anything that you can imagine. My family, my kid, my husband, my wife. That's what I been heard. I was screaming about family, myself, everything. There was a lot of suffering on those two hours and a half that we were trapped.

KYANNA PARSONS-PEREZ: My faith helped me keep my faith. My faith in God, my faith that he won't leave me.

- Among the most significant damage, a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky where about 110 people were on the job Friday night when the tornado obliterated the plant. Two of those workers are Andrea Miranda and Kyanna Parsons-Perez. Andrea had moved to Kentucky from Puerto Rico two years ago to be able to earn more money than she was making on the island. Kyanna had just begun working at the plant in early November.

Both women ducked for shelter in the same area of the factory.

ANDREA MIRANDA: I just lay on the shelter area where they move us whenever the warning [INAUDIBLE] starts. We were there no more than five minutes. We feel the wind coming through the doors. And what I just remember is the building went to left, right, and boom, collapsed.

KYANNA PARSONS-PEREZ: She was underneath me on this side. She was just screaming and kind of wailing. And I'm like, Andrea. And at one point, she had passed out. And I was like, uh-uh, baby.

- At least eight people died from the tornadoes at the local candle factory. Among those, Andrea's and Kyanna's close friend.

ANDREA MIRANDA: We were very similar in that I know that I want to see that face, that smile, that comment like, OK, girl. Slay. You look cute. That's very touching for me.

- But why its workers kept making scented candles as a tornado bore down in the region remains unclear.

KYANNA PARSONS-PEREZ: I wish they had said, you know what? Because of the weather, the impending weather, y'all don't come in tonight. Then Janine would still be here, and Devin would still be here, Kayla, Jill, and the others. I don't know everyone's name. And then people wouldn't be in the hospital with broken bones.

ANDREA MIRANDA: What I think was wrong is make us work in that day that they know that it was going to be a really bad weather.

- The National Weather Service had issued several alerts of extreme weather conditions beginning at least a day before the tornado swept through the area. Andrea recalls asking her boss multiple times prior to that Friday if employees had to come into work. She was told, yes. Several factory workers spoke out saying they were threatened with firing if they left before the tornado made landfall. Kyanna says it was negligence on behalf of management for not letting their employees seek proper shelter elsewhere and for allowing them to work under life-threatening conditions.

KYANNA PARSONS-PEREZ: I know that these corporations and these businesses like this, they take advantage of the people in these positions.

- The Mayfield Candle Factory was the third biggest employer in Western Kentucky. Scented candles made in the plant would be found on the shelves of prominent US retailers across the United States. Kyanna, who makes $14 an hour working 10 hour shifts, says people who filled in these positions of hard labor are 85% Black or Latinx.

KYANNA PARSONS-PEREZ: It was business. They're business people. They're about their money. And so they just did what they know to do. They don't think about us.

- For Kyanna, oftentimes natural disasters uncover the inequity there is in big production plants. A lot of the candles made as of now were for the springtime. Kyanna says the high demand for Christmas scented candles was over with. That means for emergency disasters like the over 30 tornadoes that ripped through the midwest, Kyanna says her coworkers, including herself, should have been cleared to not come into work for a night.

KYANNA PARSONS-PEREZ: It was a tornado. But at the same time, I feel like somebody should be held accountable. But who do you hold accountable for something like that?

- As Andrea's and Kyanna's community of Mayfield continued to mourn the loss of lives from the devastating destruction, they both hold onto their faith that helped them stay alive underneath the rubble.

ANDREA MIRANDA: There's a God up there looking and protecting us at all times. At all times. And everything will be better maybe not tomorrow, not next day, but one day will be better than we were before the tornado. I hope so.

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