The National Weather Service has confirmed a tornado touched down Monday as a line of severe storms moved through the region.
Rick Shanklin, a meteorologist with the service in Paducah, said the tornado touched down at TG Automotive Sealing Kentucky on Pembroke Road and was on the ground for approximately 4 miles. While the twister is rated at an EF-2, Shanklin said he was still assessing its intensity.
The winds tore panels off the TGASK building and damaged more than 10 power lines throughout the neighboring area. Debris was scattered around the industrial park, with pieces visibly lodged in the tops of trees hundreds of yards away.
Seven of the 184 employees at TGASK were taken to Jennie Stuart Medical Center via ambulance. Their injuries mostly consisted of “bumps and bruises,” said Paul Ray, spokesman for the Hopkinsville Police Department.
Steve Futrell, spokesman for the Hopkinsville Fire Department, said his department could not release the nature of the injuries for legal reasons.
TG, or TGASK, is a part of the Toyoda Gosei Group. Aaron Mills, a spokesman for Toyoda Gosei, said officials from TGASK are working with the injured employees and their families “to ensure their safe recovery.”
At least 33 emergency vehicles lined the road and the entrance to the plant. While emergency personnel raced around the scene, a visibly distraught woman ran from her car parked at a neighboring plant in search of a TG employee. Even after finding him and learning he was not injured, she was still shaken.
“I kept telling him from the house, there’s one coming, there’s one coming,” said the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The tornado tore the bay doors off the building where the man was working. He said he took cover behind a 10,000 pound mold, but did see another employee “thrown probably 30 feet” by the wind.
Bradley Gibson, another worker at the factory, said he was on the back side of the building when the heavy winds hit.
“I held a hold of my machine. My feet were dangling a bit,” Gibson said. “There was a big rush of wind. There was no warning, no sign. It was pretty dramatic.”
A line of employee cars streamed from the plant once ambulances had left the parking lot.
Atmos Energy, the gas provider for the plant, received a call around noon from someone at the plant, said Atmos spokeswoman Kay Coomes. Atmos personnel arrived at 12:20 p.m. and immediately turned off the gas, she said.
There was no damage to the company’s exterior equipment, Coomes added. Other utilities were also shut off shortly after the storm struck, Ray said.
Mills said the building sustained significant damage in the “finished goods area” and lost power
“Officials at TGASK are making efforts to return the plant to production as quickly as possible,” Mills said.
Futrell said HFD had two fire trucks at the scene, along with four ambulances and “several” command vehicles. Other responders visible at the plant included members of the Pembroke Fire Department, Hopkinsville Police Department, Kentucky State Police and Christian County Sheriff’s Department.
The Emergency Communications Center received the call of the damage at the facility at 12:07 p.m. and the first responders were dispatched at 12:09, Futrell said.
“God bless everyone who got out OK, we were all very lucky,” Gibson said.
Mills said Toyoda Gosei and TGASK want to thank people for their thoughts and prayers, and will provide more information about the status of the plant as it becomes available.