EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — Cranes pulled apart sections of the collapsed Amazon warehouse Saturday morning as rescue crews searched for possible victims of Friday night’s tornado. Employees and friends watched tow trucks remove dozens of damaged vehicles, some crushed under the collapsed portion of the building.
For Gina Wills, among those who had gathered outside the warehouse, the experience was overwhelming.
Wills, 27, was working her first day as a delivery driver with a third-party Amazon delivery service partner. She was finishing her last delivery when she heard sirens.
Wills had started her day at 9 a.m. and worked into the evening. As she headed back to the warehouse, her dispatcher encouraged her to make haste to beat the tornado, she said.
But then another driver was locked out of a van, and Wills was called to help, she said. Were it not for that call, Wills would have been at the warehouse when it was hit. Soon after, Wills’ supervisor told her not to return to the warehouse, so she went back to her home in Cahokia Heights — Amazon Prime van, and all.
She returned Saturday morning to retrieve her car, grateful to see it in one piece. But she had to wait, as employees’ vehicles were moved from the damaged warehouse’s parking lot to a nearby lot. She couldn’t have reached her car late Friday night, anyway, she said — the freeway exits were jammed.
“It was chaos last night,” she said.
A representative for the third-party delivery service answered a call from a Post-Dispatch reporter on Saturday, but said they couldn’t speak to the media and hung up.
The number of casualties at the facilities was still unclear more than 12 hours after the building’s collapse. At a news conference early Saturday, Edwardsville Police Chief Mike Fillback said there was “more than one fatality … at least two” at the facility, and two people had been taken to hospitals in St. Louis. Officials said at least six people were killed at the warehouse, according to The New York Times.
Amazon provided the following statement by email: “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the storm. We also want to thank all first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”
Wills said she found her job on Indeed.com, and said it pays better at $16.50 an hour than her previous gig at a Kohl’s warehouse. It was a first day she won’t forget.
“I was frustrated with the deliveries and packages and everything,” she said. “And then it got dark. And then I heard the sirens going off, and I’m like, ‘OK!’ — but I keep thinking, that could have been me inside that building.”
Terry Martin, 63, is a retired Air Force veteran. He started working for Amazon when the facilities opened here, he said, and works at the fulfillment center across from the damaged warehouse.
Though he wasn’t working Friday night, a friend of his, Briana Davis, 22, was scheduled to work. Martin sat outside of the warehouse on Saturday morning just to see what was going on, he said. He said Davis was on a FaceTime call with him, and said she was scheduled to go in and work at the now-collapsed warehouse, beginning her shift at 1:20 a.m. A robocall came at 11:44 p.m., telling her to stay home, she said.
Martin got a text from a friend working at the fulfillment center. There, the employee said, everyone was huddled together in the restrooms, shoulder-to-shoulder, when they heard about the damage to the neighboring building.
“This is a bad part of the year to be hit,” Martin said. “It’s what we call peak season.” He said he’s been working 50- to 60-hour weeks recently and has participated in several emergency drills for tornadoes and severe weather.
“This will affect a lot of people’s Christmas,” Martin said.
The Seattle Times staff contributed to this report.