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Trapped candle factory worker rescued after praying on phone with wife: 'God will work it out'

Mayfield consumer products
Debris is left after the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory was hit with a tornado in December 2021 in Mayfield, Kentucky. |

As a tornado devastated Mayfield, Kentucky, last weekend, Courtney Saxton, 38, and five of her children ranging from 3 to 13, bolted to hide in their bathtub and closet. While they hid, waiting for the storm to subside, Saxton received a frantic call. 

It was her husband, Mark, who told her that he was trapped under broken debris at the Mayfield Consumer Products’ candle factory. He had been working a shift as a forklift operator loading and unloading trucks, she told the Associated Press

Not knowing if her husband would make it out alive, Saxton said she immediately began praying with her husband about the unforeseen future. After several hours, Mark Saxton was found and rescued. Aside from cuts and scrapes on his body, he was alright medically.

“He was calling us hollering and screaming and crying because he was stuck,” Saxton said of the phone call she received. 

“It was scary for me because I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, is he going to make it?’ So, I prayed with him over the phone, too. I just kept talking to him, kept telling him that God will work it out, be strong, don’t give up, keep fighting.”

Mark Saxton told NBC News that he knew he might be in danger when he heard the tornado warning. He remembers looking outside the factory’s door and seeing an ice-cream-swirling-shaped cloud heading in his direction. He turned around and went to a tornado-safe hallway nearby. 

“Tiles and concrete started falling,” Saxton said. “Everyone started running. So I just dropped to the ground. I got in a fetal position, and the concrete slab fell on top of me.”

“I really didn’t think I was going to make it,” he continued. “If you see the people that were beside me ... I can’t believe I’m even here.”

On Friday night into Saturday morning, over 30 tornadoes left trails of destruction throughout six states: Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Over 80 have died.

Tennesee was hit by four tornadoes, including one that ran the ground for 200 miles. About 110 people were huddled inside the candle factory in Mayfield. Including Saxton, about 40 were initially rescued. On Monday, emergency officials said that they think everyone at the factory had been accounted for, including eight who died. As of Monday, about 109 people throughout Tennessee remained missing, according to Gov. Andy Beshear.

After the tornado made landfall, Saxton and her children came out of their hiding places and quickly realized their roof was missing. 

They stayed the night at a shelter on Saturday at the St. Jerome Parish Hall in Fancy Farm.

Courtney Saxton said she’ll never forget the terror she saw in her children’s faces. 

“They were scared, screaming, crying,” she told AP. “It was awful. I was trying to calm them down, but the whole time I’m praying. I knew that God would see us through.”

The Saxtons weren’t the only ones who relied on their faith during the tornado in Mayfield.  

Also taking shelter in their bathroom, Graves County Circuit Judge Kevin Bishop and his family, who live near Mayfield, resorted to prayer as a last hope amid feelings of anticipation about their survival in the midst of the unknown. 

“We hunkered down with as many pillows and blankets over everybody’s heads and prayed,” Bishop told the news agency.

Even though Bishop's home had minor damage, and the tornado removed the roof of the courthouse where he worked, he told AP that he remains optimistic about Mayfield’s ability to recover.  

“We’re strong. We’ll work together. But it’s going to be a long time,” he said.

Rev. Bob Waldridge, the pastor of Yahweh Baptist Church, could be seen cleaning up chairs, pews and sound equipment from the 100-year-old church that had been flooded and damaged. 

“The wind came through, and everything that was in the foyer ended up in the back of the church,” Waldridge was quoted as saying. “And it blew the back wall of the church out, and it took the roof off the church.”

“It’s just a building, but I’m more worried about the people,” he added. “There are a lot of folks that are hurt right now.” 

Moving forward, he said other local churches have offered their space for his congregation to meet. 

Pastor Joey Reed of Mayfield First United Methodist Church told WLKY that he waited out the storm with his wife inside the 100-year-old church. 

“We heard furniture in the foyer bouncing around and then we felt fresh air under the closet doors and we realized it was open to the elements somehow,” Reed was quoted as saying.

The tornado left the church badly damaged but still standing. 

“We will come back from this,” Reed said. “I don’t know how we will rebuild, but that doesn’t matter as much as the mission and ministry of the church rebuilding and that’s what we’re aiming for.”

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