Workers at Candle Factory, Amazon Allegedly Told They Couldn’t Leave Before Tornadoes Hit

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news.
December 14, 2021Updated: December 14, 2021

Workers at two facilities struck by tornadoes over the weekend say they were either told not to leave or threatened with termination if they left as the twisters bore down.

The tornadoes struck an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, and a candle factory run by Mayfield Consumer Products in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Six Amazon workers were killed, including Larry Virden, 46.

Virden’s longtime girlfriend, Cherie Jones, told the New York Post that she received text messages from her partner shortly before the tornado hit.

“He’s like, ‘well Amazon won’t let me leave until after the storm blows over,’” Jones said.

The text was sent about 16 minutes before the tornado touched down. The couple’s residence is about 13 minutes away from the Amazon warehouse.

Jones said she doesn’t fault Amazon.

“Not really. But it’s that what-if situation: What if they would have let him leave? He could have made it home,” she told the paper.

Asked about the account, an Amazon spokeswoman told The Epoch Times in an email that guidance from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “clearly states to take shelter immediately when there’s a tornado warning,” adding: “Our leaders on the ground followed their training and did just that, moving quickly to get people to take shelter immediately. That likely saved many lives from this storm.”

Amazon offered condolences to everybody affected by the tornadoes, including those whose loved ones passed away, and said it was providing support to workers and partners in the Edwardsville area.

OSHA opened a probe into the warehouse collapse on Monday. Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker told reporters in a briefing that possible structural issues are among the issues being investigated.

The facility in Mayfield will also be investigated, by the Kentucky Division of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance.

Epoch Times Photo
In this framegrab from an AFP video, Jemaryon Hart, 21, speaks after surviving a tornado that destroyed his workplace, the Mayfield Consumer Producers candle factory, in Mayfield, Ky., on Dec. 13, 2021. (Eleonore Sens/AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images)
Epoch Times Photo
Emergency workers search through what is left of the Mayfield Consumer Producers candle factory, in Mayfield, Ky., on Dec. 11, 2021. (John Amis/AFP via Getty Images)

Such probes are common, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters Tuesday.

“So it shouldn’t suggest that there was any wrongdoing. But what it should give people confidence in, is that we’ll get to the bottom of what happened,” he said.

Multiple workers at the factory said supervisors told them they’d be fired if they left early on Friday as a tornado moved towards the facility.

“People had questioned if they could leave or go home.” McKayla Emery, 21, told NBC.

She overheard supervisors telling them, “If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired.”

“I asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired,” added Elijah Johnson, 20.

Mayfield couldn’t be reached. A spokesperson told NBC that the allegations were “absolutely untrue” and that workers have been able to since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic leave whenever they want and return the following day.

OSHA guidance was followed, the spokesperson added.

The tornadoes in Kentucky killed at least 74 people, including eight at the factory. Those dead ranged from 2 months old to 98 years old; 12 were children.

Beshear said that the death toll had not gone up overnight.

Still, search and rescue efforts continue for over 100 missing persons.