Candle Factory Destroyed by Tornado is Closing

250 employees were let go from the Mayfield candle factory that was destroyed by tornado that killed least nine people Dec. 10, 2021.

MAYFIELD, Ky. – The candle factory that was destroyed by a killer tornado Dec. 10 is closing for good and half the employees have been laid off.

In a Jan. 10 filing under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, Mayfield Consumer Products announced that it plans to move the remaining 250 or so employees to a new plant in the neighboring town of Hickory that will be “up and running as soon as practical.”

Plant manager Michael Staten said in the notice “Although many employees are being offered a transfer to the HP facility, there will not be room for the entire population to move to Hickory Point,”. “Those employees not offered a transfer to the new facility will be laid off. “He said the company expects “all layoffs in Mayfield to be permanent.”

Bob Ferguson the company spokesman, later told The Louisville Courier Journal, that the company is “committed to the rehiring of everyone and to meeting or exceeding the employment levels it had prior to the tornado.”

“We hope they all come back,” he said.

At least nine people were killed Dec. 10 when the tornado tore through Mayfield and leveled the candle factory while more than 100 employees were making scented candles.

Before the candle, people used oil lamps where burning candle wicks was set in a vessel of liquid oil. The Romans started producing dipped candles from tallow, beginning around 500 BC and candles made in European ancient times were made from numerous forms of natural fat, tallow, and wax. In ancient Rome, candles were made of tallow due to the prohibitive cost of beeswax an organic wax made by honey bees. and nowadays, beeswax candles cost up to 10 times as much as soy or paraffin candles.

A deputy jailer who was supervising a group of inmates who were employed at the factory as part of a work release program was one of the killed by the storm

Many of the workers who feared for their safety, said they pleaded with their bosses to let leave and take shelter at home.

Employee McKayla Emery, 21, gave an interview from her hospital bed and said that concerned employees asked to leave just after tornado sirens sounded outside the factory at about 5:30 p.m.

She said she overheard managers tell four workers standing near her who wanted to leave “If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” “I heard that with my own ears.”

In another interview, 20-year-old Elijah Johnson, a co-worker of Emery said the same thing 

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

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced the state was launching an investigation “Everyone is expected to live up to certain standards of both the law, of safety and of being decent human beings,” he said. “I hope everybody lived up to those standards.”

Ferguson has denied the allegations that workers were threatened with firing if they left. However, numerous survivors have filled a law suit against the company, accusing it of showing a “flagrant indifference” to employees’ health and safety.

Some candle factory employees who were hurt in the tornado have retained attorneys based out of Lexington and Washington, D.C., to file claims resulting from the catastrophe.

Amos Jones, one of the attorneys, said in a Tuesday night news release that the survivors claim many violations of law, including “a massive cover-up discovered within the last 24 hours with an incontrovertible smoking gun,” 

Kyanna Parsons-Perez, an employee at the candle factory, said workers had been rushed to a safe area before the tornado hit. “My ears start popping. And it was like the building, we all just rocked back and forth, and then boom — everything fell on us,” she said.

Parsons-Perez said an object hit her head, and when the confusion stopped, she said her legs were trapped beneath a water fountain.

She began to hear moans and prayers from her colleagues, she said, and she tried to keep calm by telling jokes.  However, as time went on, she lost feeling in her toes and became worried, she said. At some point, she began streaming on Facebook Live.

“I don’t know who’s watching,” she said, “Y’all please send us some help. We are trapped. The wall is stuck on me. Nobody can get to us. Y’all. Pray for us. Try and get somebody to help us.”

Parsons-Perez told reporters that she was trapped under 5 feet of wreckage for about two hours until first responders were able to free her “I was screaming like, ‘Sir, can you please just get this so I can move my leg?’ He said, ‘Ma’am, there’s about 5 feet worth of debris on top of you.”

She said it was the “absolutely the most terrifying” event she had ever experienced. “I did not think I was going to make it at all.”

“Once I got out of there, I couldn’t do anything but thank God,” she said. “That’s the only thing that saved me. It’s unbelievable that anybody walked away from there.”

Another employee at the Mayfield, Kentucky, candle factory destroyed by a tornado last Friday said a supervisor told him that he would be fired if he left.

Elijah Johnson, the employee, said in an interview Tuesday “I said, ‘Man, you’re going to refuse to let us leave, even if the weather is this bad and the tornado’s not here yet?’ He was like, ‘If you want to decide to leave, if you want to leave, you can leave, but you’re going to be terminated. You’re going to be fired,” 

When asked about the accusation, Bob Ferguson, a spokesperson for Mayfield Consumer Products the company that owns the factory, said the they had spoken withal of the supervisors who were working that night, and they all denied that any employees were told that they would be terminated if they left before they were supposed to. He also stated that some employees did leave that night and employees are normally free to come and go without reprisal.

“Employees can go home at any time without any penalty,” Ferguson said. “Since COVID has made it so difficult to find employees, we have mended our practices.

“If someone comes to work, and three hours into the shift, they say ‘I want to go home,’ they’re free to go home without penalties, and they can come back to work the next day and start.”

“We know for sure that more than 90 employees escaped with their lives on the night of the tornadoes,” Ferguson said. “We’ve had a miracle situation,” company spokesman Bob Ferguson said. “Only eight lost.”

After talking with workers who survived the tornado, Attorney John Caudill said he has some questions and is looking for answers on how this could have been avoided. Caudill said there was plenty of time after the tornado warning and asked “Why were there over 100 workers in this particular building during this tornado?”

“The question is, how much notice did the people who were in charge of this company have, and what did they do about it?” Caudill asked and said he plans to interview as many personnel as he can to and may  take legal action.

Caudill said “There’s no basement in this building” he said which is something that could have provided shelter during the tornado.

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