Six Die in Amazon Warehouse Collapse
While responders rushed to save lives, Amazon founder held lavish Beverly Hills party
Late on Friday night, a massive tornado ripped through four states. Dozens are believed to have died in the storm which hit a candle factory in Mayfield Kentucky and an Amazon warehouse in Illinois. Both buildings collapsed trapping hundreds of workers inside.
In the days after the storm, Amazon is coming under increased scrutiny over the six deaths at their Edwardsville, Illinois warehouse. The facility, which is located just outside St. Louis Missouri, was in the direct path of the storm. While workers hoped that the warehouse would protect them from 155 mph winds, the building failed. The roof was ripped off and a wall collapsed, even though according to The Independent, the warehouses are built to withstand extreme weather.
When the building collapsed dozens of employees were trapped in the rubble and six died. The six people identified were 28-year-old Deandre S. Morrow, 62-year-old Keven D. Dickey, 29-year-old Clayton Lynn Cope, 34-year-old Etheria S. Hebb, 46-year-old Larry E. Virden and 26-year-old Austin J. McEwen.
According to Business Insider, once a tornado warning went out Amazon refused to allow workers to leave the facility, instead telling them to shelter in place in a bathroom. Cherie Jones, the girlfriend of Virden, said that he had just returned to the facility and texted her that he was filling up his truck. "He always tells me when he is filling up the Amazon truck when he is getting ready to go back … I was like 'OK, I love you.' He's like, 'well Amazon won't let me leave until after the storm blows over."
Jones confirmed the text came about 16 minutes before the tornado touched down at the warehouse. She said that if Virden had left then, he would have been able to make the 13-minute drive home. "We heard the tornado didn't touch down until 8:39 so he had 20 minutes to get home," Jones told the NY Post. "I messaged him and that was the last text message I got from him. I told him where we live, it was only lightning at the time. After that, I got nothing from him."
Following news of the storm and the building collapse, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), who earlier this year lost an election to organize Amazon workers in Alabama but is currently seeking a new election after the NLRB threw out the results, issued the following statement.
“Time and time again Amazon puts its bottom line above the lives of its employees. Requiring workers to work through such a major tornado warning event as this was inexcusable. At least two workers will never be going home to their families, and countless others continue to be trapped beneath the rubble of the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois. This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this. Amazon cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people's lives at risk. Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The deaths at the facility have also brought into question Amazon’s no cell phone policy. Although it appears that workers at this facility did have access to their phones and the emergency alerts that would have been sent out, many Amazon warehouses ban phones. Not only do they ban phones, but they require workers to leave them in their cars. This would almost guarantee that in an emergency, workers would not receive the relevant alerts. Clayton Cope, 29, a maintenance worker, was among the six dead, and his mother Carla told the Daily Beast that she warned him to get to safety, but instead he rushed back to the warehouse to make sure that his co-workers were warned about the incoming storm. “He just said he needed to tell someone that [the tornado] was coming,” she said. “He had a big heart and he was a very sweet man.”
While headlines around the world on Saturday morning focused on the storm and the workers who were trapped in the rubble, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos refused to put out a statement. Instead, the richest man on earth waited 24 hours to address the situation. In the meantime, Bezos allegedly threw a lavish party in Beverly Hills. He even made a social media post about the successful landing of his latest Blue Origin flight that included Good Morning America host Michael Strahan before he commented on the collapse of one of his warehouses.