MAYFIELD, Ky. — Employees at a candle factory destroyed in a tornado Friday told NBC News they wanted to leave when they heard warning sirens go off, but were told they’d be fired for leaving their shifts early.
The Mayfield Consumer Products factory in Western Kentucky was leveled by the tornado late Friday night. Employees were on site working the overnight shift manufacturing scented candles.
NBC reports that as employees got word of the approaching storm and tornado sirens began to sound, as many as 15 asked to be let off the job early to seek safety at home. Their requests were reportedly denied.
“If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” McKayla Emery said she heard managers tell her coworkers. “I heard that with my own ears.”
The company denied allegations that workers’ jobs were threatened if they left Friday night. Some people leave between the first round of emergency sirens earlier in the evening and the second round of storms that ended up causing serious damage later in the night, the Associated Press reports.
Workers said they had been told to huddle in a central hallway area, the strongest part of the building, as the storm approached. Kentucky’s governor said Sunday the ferocity of the storm was so great that there was nowhere safe to hide inside the plant.
“It appears most were sheltering in the place they were told to shelter,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “I hope that area was as safe as it could be, but this thing got hit directly by the strongest tornado we could have possibly imagined.”
A company spokesperson said Sunday that eight of the 110 workers on the overnight shift Friday are confirmed dead and another eight are missing. More than 90 have now been accounted for, making the death toll lower than some had feared hours earlier.
“Many of the employees were gathered in the tornado shelter and after the storm was over they left the plant and went to their homes,” Bob Ferguson, the company spokesperson, said. “With the power out and no landline they were hard to reach initially.”
The factory employs many people in and around Mayfield, a city of about 10,000 in Kentucky’s southwest corner. It is Graves County’s third-biggest employer, according to the county’s website. Even some inmates at the county jail worked there.
Scented candles made in the plant eventually found their way onto the shelves of prominent retailers like Bath & Body Works.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.