US tornados kill at least 88, including nine-year-old as Kentucky calls in National Guard as rescuers search through debris

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A seven-year-old girl has described how she flew around “in the tornado” that sent her family from their home into a field, killing her older sister. 

At least 88 people have died across five states as tornadoes ripped through multiple United States communities in the South and Midwest. 

Among those killed was nine-year-old Annistyn Rackley, when a tornado destroyed their home in south-east Missouri.

Annistyn, her two sisters and parents, Trey and Meghan, sought shelter in a windowless bathroom in their home as the storms raged across the middle of the country.

To prove they were in their “safe space” on Friday evening, Meghan messaged her aunt, Sandra Hooker, a photo of the three children in and next to the bathtub — all of them smiling, Annistyn holding her favourite doll.

Ms Hooker said 15 minutes later a tornado destroyed the home and threw the family into a field where first responders found them in mud.

Meghan Rackley sent this photo of her daughters to her aunt shortly before a storm destroyed their house.(AP: Meghan Rackley, courtesy of Sandra Hooker)

Annistyn, a nine-year-old third-grader who loved swimming, dancing and cheerleading, died.

The other family members were injured but survived, with seven-year-old Avalinn telling doctors she flew around “in the tornado”, Ms Hooker said.

Ms Hooker called Annistyn a “special angel”, recalling the girl as outgoing and energetic, despite a rare liver condition that required regular visits to doctors.

Two parents and three young daughters pose for a photo while standing in the desert.
Annistyn, left, was described by her great-aunt as a “special angel” and an energetic young girl who enjoyed gymnastics and swimming.(AP: Summer Alexander, courtesy of Sandra Hooker)

Ms Hooker’s account of what happened to the Rackleys came from talking to law enforcement and first responders who were at the scene after the tornado and found family members in the field. She also said she had talked to the girl’s father.

“There’s debris strewn forever out in the field, and so they were sucked up into the tornado.”

Trey Rackley suffered cuts and bruises, but he and their youngest daughter, Alanna, 3, are no longer in hospital.

As workers, volunteers and members of the National Guard spread out across Kentucky and other US states to start the recovery effort after the devastating tornadoes, families are counting the cost of what cannot be recovered.

In the neighbouring state of Kentucky, authorities say at least 74 people have died, although Governor Andy Beshear said that number could climb.

Nearly 450 National Guard members have been mobilised in Kentucky, and 95 of them are doing fatality searches.

The vast majority of the deaths have been in Kentucky, with neighbouring states — Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and Tennessee — also recording fatalities.

Recovery effort to take years, authorities say

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As well as 74 people in Kentucky, deaths were recorded in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee.

Five twisters hit Kentucky in all, including one with an extraordinarily long path of about 365 kilometres, authorities said.

As searches continued for those still missing, efforts have also turned to repairing the power grid, sheltering those whose homes were destroyed and delivering supplies.

A fund set up by the state has collected $6 million in donations, according to the governor, and his wife, Britainy Beshear, has launched a Christmas toy drive for children affected by the storm.

Across the state, about 26,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, according to poweroutage.us, including nearly all of those in the town of Mayfield, home to about 10,000 people.

More than 10,000 homes and businesses had no water, and another 17,000 were under boil-water advisories, Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett told reporters.

State and local officials said it could take years for some of the hardest-hit areas to fully recover.

“This is not going to be a week or a month operation, folks,” Mr Dossett said.

“This will go on for years to come. This is a massive event.”

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