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

·4-min read

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 monstrous tornado ripped through the production plant and the building collapsed.

“I just heard everybody screaming and yelling, ‘I’m going to die, we’re not going to survive.’ People were screaming for their family, kids, husband, wife. That’s all I heard. I was screaming for my family myself. There was a lot of suffering,” Miranda told Yahoo News.

Andrea Miranda takes a selfie.
Andrea Miranda had been working at the Mayfield, Ky., candle factory for two years. (Andrea Miranda)

Miranda, 21, moved from Puerto Rico to Kentucky two years ago in order to work at the candle factory — earning more there than she was while on the island. Parsons-Perez had just begun working at the production plant in early November.

“My faith, my faith helped keep me alive. My faith in God, my faith in that he won’t leave me,” Parsons-Perez, 40, said.

There were 110 people on the clock at the candle factory the night the tornado obliterated the plant, part of a string of violent twisters that tore tracts throughout the upper South. At least eight people died from the tornado at the Mayfield plant — including a co-worker who had been Miranda and Parsons-Perez’s close friend. “We’re very similar and to know I won’t see that face, that smile, or hear those sassy comments like ‘OK, girl,’ that’s so heartbreaking for me,” Miranda said.

A flattened car and a large field of debris at the destroyed Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory.
Emergency workers search through the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory on Saturday after it was destroyed by a tornado in Mayfield, Ky. (John Amis/AFP via Getty Images)

The workers question why they were in the factory that night as the threat of tornadoes was present throughout the region. The company’s spokesperson has said there “were regular drills and the employees went to the shelter, which is an interior part of that building,” but that the “tornado was of such rare size and strength” that the building was overpowered.

“I wish they would have said, because of the extreme weather, we’re not going to have to come in tonight. Then maybe Janine would still be here. Kayla would still be here,” Parsons-Perez added.

Miranda told Yahoo News she recalls asking management prior to that Friday if employees had to come in to work. She was told they should. Several factory workers spoke out, saying they were threatened with firing if they left their shifts early; the company has denied the allegations, which it called “absolutely untrue.”

“We’re heartbroken about this, and our immediate efforts are to assist those affected by this terrible disaster,” the Mayfield Consumer Products CEO said in a statement on the company website. “Our company is family-owned and our employees, some who have worked with us for many years, are cherished. We’re immediately establishing an emergency fund to assist our employees and their families.”

Kyanna Parsons-Perez at the candle factory.
Kyanna Parsons-Perez at work at the production plant. (Kyanna Parsons-Perez)

The Mayfield factory was the third-biggest employer in southwestern Kentucky, according to the Guardian, producing scented candles for Bath & Body Works and other major retailers.

Parsons-Perez said the workers in the Mayfield factory were overwhelmingly Black or Latinx.

“Boom. Everything came down on us. All you heard was screams. ... We have a lot of Hispanic people there — Puerto Rican, Mexican, Guatemalan. ... You can hear people screaming and praying in Spanish,” she recalled in another interview of the moment the building collapsed and the workers there became trapped.

“It was a tornado. I believe someone should be held accountable, but who do you hold accountable for something like this?” Parsons-Perez asked Yahoo News.

As the community of Mayfield continues to mourn the lives lost from the devastating destruction, Miranda and Parsons-Perez both hold on to the faith that helped them stay alive underneath the rubble.

“There’s a God up there looking and protecting us at all times, and I know everything will be better — maybe not tomorrow or the next day — but it will be OK. And we will be better than before the tornado happened,” Miranda said.

Both Miranda and Parsons-Perez have launched GoFundMe pages to help them rebuild after the disaster.

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