back to article Midwest tornado destroys Amazon warehouse, killing six after worker 'told not to leave'

Six people were killed on Friday night when a severe storm struck an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, and dozens more lost their lives in nearby Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Police in Edwardsville have identified six individuals who died as a result of the EF-3 tornado. "The Edwardsville Fire …

  1. adam 40 Silver badge

    Corporate manslaughter?

    I had heard on a news report that night that the employees "were being led to shelter".

    So it seems obvious they being made to work right up until the point where the roof was being ripped off.

    If so, that is shocking.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Corporate manslaughter?

      As with any company hit by something like this during their normal working hours, no doubt someone was watching the weather forecasts and local reports, ready to close things down. What info they took into account and how close there were prepared to cut it to the bone is what matters. Bear in mind all the people who died in the Candle factory in Mayfield too.

      Also bear in mind that predicting where these things touch down and where they go is more of an art than a science and that often the swathe of damage, while devastating for the areas it hits, can often be quite narrow, houses and building just a street or two away from the main track escaping almost totally unscathed.

      I'd not be pointing fingers at Amazon management until after it's been investigated and witnesses have had their say and we find out the full circumstances. Was Amazon in the process of shutting down in the face of the storm coming or were they still sending delivery drivers out knowing it was coming and there was an active "danger to life" warning?

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Corporate manslaughter?

        There were tornado warnings out. You dont second guess them you get people to safety.

        1. david 12 Silver badge

          Re: Corporate manslaughter?

          >You dont second guess them you get people to safety.<

          Which is why the employees were instructed to not leave.

          This is standard for homes, schools, factories and warehouses: when there is a tornado warning, only the foolish or distracted go outside, and it the role of friends and employers to prevent them. Like discouraging your friends from driving while drunk.

          People were killed while at work. There will be an investigation if the building was fit for purpose, if they were sheltering correctly, if they were given dangerous orders. All the usual stuff.

      2. Jedit Silver badge
        Flame

        "Was Amazon in the process of shutting down in the face of the storm?"

        Reports are that not only were Amazon not shutting down in the face of the storm, one of the dead workers had texted his partner not long before the storm hit to say that management had refused employee requests to leave. If that is true, then there's people who need to spend the rest of their lives in prison for this.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: "Was Amazon in the process of shutting down in the face of the storm?"

          I read that, and think it's one of those things that needs more detail. The person's partner said much the same, ie the risk of sheltering in place vs the risk of being caught in the open in a light vehicle.

        2. cmdrklarg

          Re: "Was Amazon in the process of shutting down in the face of the storm?"

          Not allowing them to leave during a tornado warning is the correct thing to do. Tornadoes are very unpredictable, and can easily toss a vehicle around.

          Getting caught outside in a vehicle is much worse than sheltering in place.

    2. badflorist

      Re: Corporate manslaughter?

      It's Amazon's fault for not checking weather conditions and clearly not having a "Shelter-In-Place" or having one that's worth a damn.

      That said, it can be very, very hard to hear a tornado "coming". The howl is only distinct once it's basically "here". If you're lucky, you'll hear it destroying something and that will be your clue, however that something probably won't be trees but buildings or something else man made. The 2nd scariest part is the psychological effect of seeing it and wondering "is he coming", the 1st scariest part is "he's here".

      The tornado's in the midwest have been becoming more numerous and more violent over the years. The myth of tornado's not crossing rivers is just that, a myth. Also, what this article and most don't point out is that if these same tornado's where in L.A., tens of thousands would be dead.

      P.S. the worst tornado in Kentucky is guessed to be a 4 that happen in 1915 (it was surely higher than a 3). This sort of thing makes people in Oklahoma smile.

      There's old B&W pics here: https://www.nkyviews.com/Links/tornado_July_7_1915.htm

      1. rcxb1

        Re: Corporate manslaughter?

        > what this article and most don't point out is that if these same tornado's where in L.A., tens of thousands would be dead.

        If a major earthquake hit tornado alley, tens of thousands would die, too. Something about localities being prepared for the natural disasters that frequently occur, and completely unprepared for disasters that almost never occur there...

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Corporate manslaughter?

          WHEN a major earthquake hits tornado alley

          There, FTFY

          Lookup Reelfoot Rift and New Madrid

          The largest earthquake casualty risk in the USA isn't where you might think it is. Moment Magnitude 7+ intraplate quakes with virtually zero seismic protection will be a slaughter and it's more or less due to pop again Real Soon Now

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Madrid_Seismic_Zone

      2. T-Rex Neb

        Re: Corporate manslaughter?

        WRT tornadoes becoming more violent, I encourage you to read up on the 1925 Tri-State Tornado (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tri-State_tornado_outbreak#cite_ref-Losses_3-0) that killed at least 747, injured around 2300, and caused $2.42 billion (in 2021 dollars) worth of damage. And according to The Economist, tornadoes are not increasing in frequency.

        1. Eff Flintstone

          Re: Corporate manslaughter?

          Interesting post, spoiled by:

          - cherry-picking a single event from nearly 100 years ago, rather than showing the trends for the last 100 years

          - mentioning The Economist (without actual citation) as a source of scientific data

          Both of those suggest an agenda rather than knowledgable or scientific information.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Corporate manslaughter?

            There's an interesting video on Jim Steele's YT channel, which is rather critical of attempts to exploit these deaths and attribute them to global warming. Especially as there's been no real increase in frequency or magnitude, and potentially a decrease since the '50s. What has increased is the damage bill, ie a tornado tracking across farmland will cost less than one hitting the Amazon warehouse. And much the same is true with the human cost.

            1. MrDamage Silver badge

              Re: Corporate manslaughter?

              > "Especially as there's been no real increase in frequency or magnitude, and potentially a decrease since the '50s."

              Partially correct. There has been a slight decrease in events in "Tornado Alley". There has, however, been an upswing in frequency in "Dixie Alley" to the southeast.

              Combined, there has been a slight increase, as well as a shift in where they are now landing.

              https://www.weather.gov/lmk/niu_tornado_frequency_study

              Sure, it's only one study by a bunch of meteorologists, but I'd give them more credence over some conspiracy theory whackjob whose credentials are what, exactly?

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Corporate manslaughter?

                The swing in tornado numbers, strengths and locations more or less matches the changes in hurricanes over the same period (there's been a "lull" in really violent hurricanes from the 1950s until fairly recently(*)). Over this kind of short period it's difficult to tell an oscillation from climate change although I'd pick that a more energetic Jet Stream can potentially make things more extreme

                Weather is not climate and climate is not weather

                (*) Such lulls have happened before. They happen with earthquakes too - New Zealand has just had a 70-year period of unusual calmness quake-wise. It doesn't mean the long term averages change, but it does mean people get more startled when big events happen. When nature throws dice the laws of randomness dictate that every so often it gets a run of ones and every so often it gets a run of sixes but most of the time it's all over the place

                1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                  Re: Corporate manslaughter?

                  I think this is the problem with the politicisation of science by activists, especially when those activists masquerade as scientists. Obama once quoted to '97%' meme, probably unaware how that originated, or how problematic that claim is. And John Cook and his merry band of deniers have been back in the news following a Nature paper describing an 'AI' driven auto-denial system he's pitching to Facepalm et al. It promises to stifle debate in real-time, based on carefully curated memes decided by himself as his pals.

                  Which would probably have blocked Biden's claim that the storm's evidence of global warming. But that's normal when activists try to link discrete weather events to climate change, which is just average weather. But such is science in a complex, chaotic world. So as you say, there are oscillations. The Steele video points some out, ie conditions in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, the jet stream etc.

                  All, or none might be influenced by human activity, but we also know there's been variability in the past. On example being from ship's logs detailing weather, passage times, and variability in the 'Trade Winds'. And given trade records exist for hundreds of years, it's possible to try and correlate ship's logs with commodity records given they're often weather dependent.

                  Or just deny all that evidence, and claim a mythical equilibrium pre-1850 and wide-spread industrialisation.

                  Personally, I think naturally variability and oscillations are dominant. It's basic maths that if you have signal components of different frequency, sometimes peaks will coincide.

                  1. Swarthy Silver badge

                    Re: Corporate manslaughter?

                    As opposed to the politicization of science by money-hungry corporations?

                    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                      Re: Corporate manslaughter?

                      The money hungry corporations have long been following the green. So for example lobbying for more money to be wasted on 'renewables' and lobbying against nuclear. But such is politics. Dogma states weather will become more severe. So at least a windmill in a tornado will generate close to it's nameplate capacity. Albeit briefly, and terminally. It's much the same with other weather events, eg hail vs wind or solar, or just wind vs solar panels.

              2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Re: Corporate manslaughter?

                Hmm? Are you referring to comments by one Michael Mann, famous producer of synthetic hockey sticks? He's obviously linked this weather event to global warming, and that the solution is to donate Biden's Build Back Better Billions to Nobel prize winning authors like himself. I thoroughly recommend his best selling novel, 'Dire Predictions', which sums up his life's achievements.

                If you mean Jim Steele, he was Director of SFU's Sierra Nevada campus for 25yrs. Also has a book explaining his drift towards climate scepticism.. After all, real scientists are supposed to be sceptics after all.

                But such is politics.

          2. T-Rex Neb

            Re: Corporate manslaughter?

            Yeah, seeing as how I live in tornado alley, but whatever. And your comment about an agenda is much like the pot calling the kettle black. But you do you, big 'un.

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Corporate manslaughter?

      The Amazon facility had a tornado shelter area on the north side of the building (its usually the restrooms --- they're built with reinforced walls to resist flying debris and they're on the north side because tornadoes tend to travel south west to north east). Everyone who made it to that area was OK but half a dozen who were sheltering against the south wall died when it collapsed on them.

      The "made to work" report was the candle factory. Here people were threatened with termination if they left the workplace. This facility didn't appear to have any tornado shelters.

  2. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    From vehicles

    I thought the same at first "they make them work up to the last second?" But they were being led to shelter...from their delivery vehicles. I worked at P&G here, high rate of tornadoes (although not usually in December.) We'd go to shelter as soon as a tornado warning was issued, which is a minimum of 10 minutes ahead of time, usually more like 30. (a warning includes a storm favorable for forming a tornado, funnel clouds, etc., not just tornado on the ground.) I would be surprised if Amazon did any different.

    I could be wrong but what local media indicated (we are about 200 miles from this facility), they were being led to the shelters *from their delivery vehicles*. staying in a van in a tornado is in no way safe, trying to outrun or outmaneuver a tornado in a vehicle won't work (storm chasers do this, but they have live radar feeds, maps ready, etc., and professional knowledge on how the storm and tornado are likely to track.) So it was just the bad luck of getting there a minute or 2 too late to be in shelter when the tornado hit.

    1. JassMan Silver badge

      Re: From vehicles

      Given that the building is 1.1M sq feet, if it was square that would require 5 minutes to walk each side. It sounds like the building should have had quite a number of safety shelters. I wonder if all staff were trained to go to the nearest shelter, and if there were marked routes to those shelters with maintained lighting.

      1. JassMan Silver badge

        Re: From vehicles

        Just seen on BBC News, that an Amazon spokesman said they advised all staff to get to the* shelter in place. *my emphasis.

        In a building this size, IMHO, there should be a minimum of 9 shelters. In fact if they had really been concerned about safety, EVERY toilet facility in a single floor large area warehouse should be constructed as a shelter. It wouldn't even have cost that much more compared to the overall warehouse cost. Although from the pics, the building looks like it was just to keep the rain off the merchandise, not to withstand anything stronger than a stiff breeze.

        1. Ordinary Donkey

          Re: From vehicles

          In a building this size, IMHO, there should be a minimum of 9 shelters. In fact if they had really been concerned about safety, EVERY toilet facility in a single floor large area warehouse should be constructed as a shelter.

          I worked for them once, they don't tend to have enough toilet facilities either.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: From vehicles

      So it was just the bad luck of getting there a minute or 2 too late to be in shelter when the tornado hit.

      That's not quite it I think. My understanding is that those all killed were all sheltering inside the amazon facility when one half of the facility collapsed. Those sheltering in the half that collapsed were out of luck. Those sheltering in the half that did not collapse were lucky.

      The fact that they were "sheltering" does not mean that they were sheltering in a ">=3F tornado proof shelter".

      [Reuters]

      Six Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) workers were confirmed dead on Saturday after a series of tornadoes roared through a warehouse near St. Louis, ripping off its roof and causing 11-inch thick concrete walls longer than football fields to collapse on themselves.

      No mention specifically of a tornado safe room inside or outside the building.

      There information here about the factors for deciding whether or not to build a storm room:

      https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_safe-rooms-for-tornadoes-and-hurricanes_p-361.pdf

      It mentions There may be insurance benefits associated with having a safe room.

      That will have been the deciding factor for Amazon, as Kentucky most certainly did not have any legal requirements.

      I believe at least one of the victims was a "self-employed" delivery driver who took shelter inside. Will the partner in marriage of the deceased be eligible for Amazon's insurance benefits?

  3. Peter Prof Fox

    Lessons 'will be learned'

    I hope so.

    Except for some reason I guess big corporations fancy lessons/laws/taxes/humanity don't apply to them.

    How is it that ENORMOUS corporations with INCREDIBLE resources don't have the common sense CARE to get serious about safety until it's too late?

    1. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Lessons 'will be learned'

      Money.......

      If it costs then money then bean counters will invariably win, particularly if said bean counters and manglement are not in the line of fire.

  4. swm Silver badge

    Sh*t happens

    Tornadoes are very damaging. Half of the comments seem to be blaming Amazon for the tornado. A good part of the building was destroyed as were many other structures. There may have been no safe place reachable by the time the warning was given. And those that were reachable might very well have been destroyed. I will wait for the post mortem before I cast stones.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Sh*t happens

      Yup, same.

      Seems to me that Amazon's responsibility would be to ensure the building was up to code, and it had procedures in place. So shelter in place once a warning is given, and enough shelters for staff.

      But a sad situation. I had some interesting conversations with a physicist involved in storm forecasting. His view was that sometimes people get complacent, or with people moving into 'tornado alley', they might not be aware just how deadly they can be. His faculty had a warning pack for students and visitors with sobering images of the devastation caused. One that struck me was a track across a residential neighborhood. Houses on one side of a street had minor damage, the other side, completely destroyed.

      1. T-Rex Neb

        Re: Sh*t happens

        Dollars to donuts Amazon's structure was up to code.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sh*t happens

          Or they would change the code to suit...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sh*t happens

          Dollars to donuts Amazon's structure was up to code.

          Have you seen building code in rural and small town USA? There basically isn't one. This was not a brick warehouse as one might find in the UK, it was basically a scaled-up corrugated metal shed. Perfectly legal and up to code, but deadly to work in or near (flying guillotine blades of shed parts, anyone?) during tornadoes.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Sh*t happens

            UK builds warehouse much the same way, ie steel not brick. And brick could end up being more dangerous given the risk of collapse, or flying bricks. Hence buildings seem to get designed to fail somewhat gracefully. Shelters should protect people, buildings can be rebuilt once the storm's passed. Plus there are other practicalities, like a building might survive an EF3 tornado, but virtually no building would survive an EF5.

      2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Sh*t happens

        In one of Alister Cooke's 'Letter from America' broadcasts*, he recounted surviving a tornado in the USA. A grove of 20 year old pine trees was almost completely destroyed. But one tree trunk had a short, pencil thin object sticking into it. Fascinated by this they went over after the storm to see what it was. It was a straw.

        *I think these are available on the BBC 'sounds' app, but do not recall which one the story appears in.

      3. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Sh*t happens

        Aerial pictures of the Amazon facility show that only a relatively small area of one building was destroyed. If you were in that area or anywhere where you could get caught by flying debris then you'd be SoL.

        This was an exceptional event, both for timing (December and night) and severity. The National Weather Service predicted a possibility over a day in advance and gave adequate warning of the swarm. It was just bad luck that the outbreak happened where and when it did. Besides the commercial buildings there are nasty stories like the one about the Amish family. After the tornado passed a neighbor went across to check on them, found their house completely destroyed, found two severely traumatized children and a baby in the wreckage. The parents and the other two children were nowhere to be found. A search party found them later some distance away. Dead. Tornadoes are bad news.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Sh*t happens

          That's one of the scarey things about tornados. Average track width is around 50yds, but they pack an awful lot of energy into that space.

    2. A. Coatsworth

      Re: Sh*t happens

      It's a matter of reasonable doubt: given Amazon's stellar history on employee relations and laboral laws, it is easy to believe they sidestepped / bribed their way out of / plainly ignored their responsibilities as employers in this case.

      Obviously nothing can be said for certain before the investigation ends, but I for one wouldn't bet my life on Amazon's adherence to regulations

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sh*t happens

        Amazon writes the requirements. Or at least their best paid employees do - those elected officials.

  5. Trigun

    "Amazon family". I'm not sure that anyone believes that such a thing exists, but if it does then please be sure to help the loved ones of those who have lost their lives. They died working for you, after all.

  6. uccsoundman

    This is because every minute of idle time costs Amazon money, and Jeff Bezos did not become a bajillionaire by wasting money on things such as safety. Besides, in the USA employees are disposable cannon fodder and we can always get replacements... or so they taught us in business school.

  7. BackToTheFuture

    Risk Management

    Just had a look on Googe Streetview and the Edwardsville Amazon building is (was) a very long structure with large prefab-type panelled walls and no brickwork in sight whatsoever. The surrounding topography is completely flat for miles around. One look will tell you that no way would that building built to survive a tornado impact.

    Yesterday I heard a chilling interview with a survivor from the similarly destroyed candle factory in Mayfield, which is about 150 miles away from Edwardsville. She was pulled out from the wreckage after being buried under debris for several hours. She reported that all the workers there knew that all the other workers in nearby factory units had been sent home earlier in the day due to the perceived high risk because they’d been telephoned by their families, but the candle factory’s management told them not to go home and keep working.

    I’d like to give Amazon the benefit of the doubt and assume that they did not callously decide to ignore the potential clear risk to their workforce yesterday. However, there has been a catalogue of events involving Amazon treating the health and safety of their workforce as entirely secondary issues to making money, not least around Covid-related safety such as not providing protective equipment and refusing to inform staff when co-workers tested positive for coronavirus. Amazon have a very poor record of treating their staff as human beings.

    At the end of the day it was risk management. The local weather was forecast as potentially extreme, as it proved to be. Clearly the Amazon facility kept their workforce working on site when they had the option to close down for a few hours and send their workforce home until the potential risk of a major tornado impact had receded. They chose not to.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Risk Management

      I still want to see what the official investigations say, and timelines.

      One comment said there was a delay between sirens going off, and being told to shelter. But then I thought it was SOP that you head to shelter as soon as you hear the siren. Which also made me wonder if there are mandatory drills where tornados are a risk.

      But I guess there are also other risks, ie profits vs safety. Or if false alarms are frequent, then alarms would be ignored.

  8. Marty McFly Silver badge
    WTF?

    Wow!

    Reading the comments here it is clear Bezos was obviously on-site personally directing the tornado to chase down the six slowest employees to eliminate them from the work force. So much cheaper than lay offs.

    Of course everyone is wondering why Bezos didn't shelter in the private hidden bunker built in to every Amazon warehouse. That is just fake news, the Amazon executive bunkers are obsolete. The truth is Blue Origin launched him out of the facility just as the eye of the tornado passed overhead.

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