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OSHA investigating Amazon warehouse collapse

“We are ensuring there is a full understanding of what happened to these individuals in their final moments," Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday.

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — Efforts are underway locally and federally to understand how a large section of the Edwardsville Amazon Delivery Warehouse collapsed when a tornado ripped through the area Friday night.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said Monday local officials in the Edwardsville area are working to determine if there were any structural issues with the facility.

“We are ensuring there is a full understanding of what happened to these individuals in their final moments and while we cannot prevent natural disasters, we can strive to prevent future tragedies and ensure all Illinoisans make it home safe at the end of their shift,” Pritzker said.

An EF-3 rated tornado with tops winds of 150 mph, tracked across the Amazon warehouse. According to Chief Michael Fillback with Edwardsville Police, walls on both sides of the building collapsed inward and the roof fell down. The concrete walls were 40 feet tall and about the length of a football field, officials said.

Six Amazon workers died. Those victims are Deandre Morrow and Etheria Hebb of St. Louis, Kevin Dickey of Carlyle, Larry Virden of Collinsville, Austin McEwen of Edwardsville and Clayton Cope of Alton. Another employee is still in the hospital with serious injuries.

OSHA investigating

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, better known as OSHA, confirmed with 5 On Your Side Monday an official investigation on the warehouse collapse is underway.

"OSHA has had compliance officers at the complex since Saturday, December 11 to provide assistance," said OSHA spokesperson Scott Allen. "OSHA has six months to complete its investigation, issue citations and propose monetary penalties if violations of workplace safety and or health regulations are found.”

The agency will not have any further details to share until after its investigation.

An Amazon spokesperson provided the following written statement Tuesday morning.

“OSHA investigates all workplace fatalities and we are supporting them,” Amazon Director of Media Relations Kelly Nantel said.

Moments before the tornado hit

Two Amazon spokespeople joined Gov. Pritzker during a news conference Monday in Pontoon Beach, following a tour of the damage in Edwardsville. They said the warehouse was built consistent with proper codes, and the company is working to investigate what happened in the moments leading up to the twister hitting the facility.

Employees were given “minutes” to get to shelter, Amazon Director of Media Relations Kelly Nantel said. She said workers received community tornado warning alerts on their phones. Team leaders also used bullhorns and radios to urge everyone to seek shelter.

There were 46 people in the building at the time, added John Feldman, Amazon’s senior vice president of global delivery services. Of them, 39 were working on the north side of the building and seven were on the south side. The area designated as a “safe space” was located on the north side. There wasn’t a similar space on the south side, Nantel said.

Feldman said "all procedures were followed correctly" during the tornado warning. He added that Amazon will continue investigating what happened to see what they can do better or differently in the future.

The search continues

Monday morning, construction trucks and cranes returned to the Edwardsville Amazon Delivery Warehouse to continue searching through what remains of the building. Crews don't expect to find any survivors in the rubble; there are no reports of anyone still missing inside the building.

For the families of the six employees who died at the warehouse during Friday's tornado, these last few days have been devastating. We don’t yet have information on funeral services. 

One mother, Carla Cope, spoke with 5 on Your Side and shared the last conversation she had with her son, Clayton Cope. She warned him in a phone call that the storm seemed to be heading his direction. Clayton told his mother he would seek shelter, but not before he warned his coworkers. 

“He was trained in the Navy,” said Carla Cope. “That’s what they do, and in his job he would’ve put himself out there no matter what.”

She told us how it felt to receive the news that her son passed away. She said, “There’s nothing that you can experience like getting that information… There’s no amount of sympathy that can make you feel any better. It’s just going to take time.”

READ ALSO: 'At least I got to say I love you': Mom warned Amazon worker minutes before tornado struck

There are no current reports of missing persons at the building, but Edwardsville officials are urging any residents with missing loved ones to call police at 618-656-2131.

Credit: UPI
Twisted metal and chunks of concrete crushing vehicles, are all that is left of the Amazon Hub in Edwardsville, Illinois on Saturday, December 11, 2021. A powerful tornado on Friday, December 10, 2021, leveled the football size plant leaving two dead and several employees missing. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Helping employees

5 On Your Side talked with Amazon Director of Media Relations Kelly Nantel on-site about the storm over the weekend. She said all employees affected by the closure of the Edwardsville Amazon Delivery Warehouse and the adjacent Fulfillment Center will be paid over the course of the time they are not able to work. 

Nantel said employees should not be penalized for any absences from work and if they have any issues, they should reach out to their HR representatives. 

She added that the company is providing support to the employees of this location. 

"This was a pretty traumatic event for everybody. We want to make sure they know hey have access to services, food, transportation, time off — whatever they need. So, right now, that's really our priority is taking care of our people," she said.

Amazon said the company will be communicating individually with the families of each of the six employees who died. 

Friday night’s tornado in Edwardsville has been graded an EF-3 by the National Weather Service, with wind speeds anywhere around 165 miles per hour

Credit: KSDK
Daylight shows the damage at an Amazon distribution warehouse in Edwardsville on Dec. 10, 2021

Disaster proclamation

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced a state disaster proclamation for all counties impacted by the devastating storm.

It gives the state the ability to expedite resources, personnel or equipment, the governor said. It also allows the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to obtain more resources to help communities.

“We will assist every step of the way,” Pritzker said.

In total, six tornadoes were confirmed throughout Illinois.

Damage in Edwardsville

The strength of the storm is evident when you take a look at the surrounding areas. 

Our team found damage along Sand Road, located behind the Amazon warehouse. There are houses and trailer homes in the area. 

Some trailers were destroyed by the storm. Trees were split, ripped up and blown across the street. 

Neighbors told us they’ll be cleaning up debris blown off of the Amazon warehouse for some time. 

One owner of ‘Grandpa’s Peach and Pecan Farm’ on Sand Road said roofing from the Amazon warehouse was blown so hard into his property, it knocked a hole in the side of his concrete house. The farm also lost a greenhouse, a 65-foot-long trailer home on the property, several trees, sheds and equipment. 

First responders conducting the search said they've been getting donations from the community. People have donated things like food, water, and Gatorade. 

If you’d like to support crews, contact the Red Cross or Salvation Army to organize that.

READ ALSO: How you can help those affected by tornadoes that swept through the St. Louis region

Edwardsville residents with significant damage to their home or property should call the United Way by calling 211.

The Edwardsville public works department will start cleaning up debris Monday in the following locations:

  • Country Club View Subdivision, which includes Country Club View Drive, Fairway Drive, Sunset Hills Drive, Birdie Court and Eagle Court
  • Glen Echo Subdivision, which includes Glen Echo Drive, Lockhaven Court, Camelot Drive and Country Club Lane

Residents working to clean up the damage are asked to follow these restrictions in order to have debris removed:

  • Building materials and tree debris should be placed in separate piles near the edge of the roadway.
  • Tree limbs should be cut into pieces that are 8 feet or less if possible.
  • Residents are encouraged to place small building debris in their regular trash for pickup.
  • City crews may not enter private property.
  • Materials that will be removed only include trees and building materials that are a direct result of the storm event.

Edwardsville residents outside the areas identified above who have tornado debris should call the Department of Public Works at 618-692-7535.

5 On Your Side's Holden Kurwicki contributed to this report.

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