Jeff Bezos on Saturday night said he was “heartbroken” over the deaths of at least six Amazon employees in an Illinois warehouse hit by a tornado Friday.
The Amazon founder was blasted on social media earlier Saturday for failing to mention the deadly incident in Edwardsville while cheering on his latest group of space tourists in an Instagram post.
“The news from Edwardsville is tragic,” he finally said in a statement on Twitter at around 9 p.m. “We’re heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones.”
“All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis,” the post continued. “We extend our fullest gratitude to all the incredible first responders who have worked so tirelessly at the site.”
The statement came 24 hours after the tornado struck, and after Bezos had posted a photo on Instagram with the latest crew of his New Shepard rocket, including former NFL champion Michael Strahan.
“Happy crew this morning in the training center,” he wrote.
Bezos was spotted high fiving the Blue Origin crew after they returned from a 10-minute flight in West Texas, as he greeted them at the door of the capsule.
Several social media users ripped the billionaire over the celebration, with one writing, “It’s really sickening if you want my honest opinion.”
“Jeff Bezos has said absolutely NOTHING on the lives lost at his facility in Illinois after a catastrophic tornado left numerous workers trapped. But sure, go play wannabe space men for 10 minutes. Unreal,” Twitter user Joshua Dyer posted over video of the landing festivities.
Amazon spokesman Richard Roche issued a statement on Saturday morning, saying, “this is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners.”
The tornado, part of a storm system that killed at least 70 people across five states, hit the fulfillment center around 8:30 p.m. Friday night while workers were in the middle of a shift change, officials said.
In addition to the six fatalities, another worker was injured and 45 others had to be rescued from the football-field sized warehouse, located about 15 miles East of St. Louis, Missouri.
Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said that the twister caused the facility’s 40-foot-tall, 11-inch-thick walls to collapse, forcing a roof to collapse in a section of the warehouse. He said there were two areas in the building where most of the survivors were located. It did not have a basement.
Due to the shift change, Amazon was not able to accurately say how many workers were inside the building when the tornado hit, but officials switched their “search and recovery” from “search and rescue” on Saturday, not believing there could be any more survivors.
One of the victims was identified as Clayton Cope, a 29-year-old Amazon maintenance worker whose mother confirmed to Fox 2 St. Louis that he was among the victims.