(NEXSTAR) – Workers at the candle factory destroyed by a tornado on Friday told NBC News they wanted to leave when they heard warning sirens go off, but were told they would be fired for leaving their shift early.

The Mayfield Consumer Products plant in western Kentucky was flattened by the tornado Friday night. Employees worked on site during the night shift to make scented candles.

NBC reports that when employees learned of the approaching storm and the tornado sirens began to sound, as many as 15 asked to be released early to seek safety at home. Their requests would have been rejected.

“If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” McKayla Emery said of hearing managers tell her colleagues. “I heard that with my own ears.”

The company denied claims that the workers’ jobs would be at risk if they left on Friday evening. Some people leave between the first round of emergency sirens earlier in the evening and the second round of storms that ended up causing severe damage later that night, reports the Associated Press.

Workers said they were told to huddle in a central hallway, the strongest part of the building, as the storm approaches. The Kentucky governor said Sunday that the ferocity of the storm was so great there was no safe place to hide inside the plant.

“It appears most were taking shelter where they were told to take shelter,” Governor Andy Beshear said. “I hope this area was as safe as possible, but this thing was directly hit by the strongest tornado we could have imagined.”

A company spokesman said Sunday that eight of 110 workers on Friday’s night shift are confirmed dead and eight others are missing. More than 90 have now been tallied, making the death toll lower than some feared hours earlier.

“A lot of employees gathered in the tornado shelter and after the storm was over, they left the plant and went home,” company spokesman Bob Ferguson said. “With the power outage and no landline, they were hard to reach at first.”

The plant employs many people in and around Mayfield, a town of about 10,000 people in the southwest corner of Kentucky. It is Graves County’s third-largest employer, according to the county’s website. Even some county jail inmates worked there.

Scented candles made in the factory eventually found their way onto the shelves of top retailers like Bath & Body Works.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Candle factory workers said they would be fired if they left before the tornado hit - employees

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