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Tornadoes wreck Dallas-Fort Worth area, destroy homes

Tony Gutierrez | AP
Tony Gutierrez | AP
Texas Army National Guard Cpl. Brock Fischer of Charlie Troop, 3-124 Cav., searches a vehicle in front of a tornado damaged home Tuesday, April 3, 2012, in Forney, Texas.
By David Tarrant, The Associated Press

DALLAS — Wave after wave of storms battered North Texas on Tuesday afternoon, smashing homes and apartment complexes, toppling trees, tossing vehicles and forcing thousands of students to seek shelter inside their schools.

The National Weather Service reported at least a dozen tornadoes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — including two in Dallas and as many as four to the northeast in Hunt County.

Amazingly, given the ferocity of the storms, officials reported no deaths and surprisingly few injuries, though there will certainly be many millions of dollars in property damage.

“This tornado seemed to land about 10 times, and we didn’t have to take anybody to the hospital,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who toured damaged parts of Oak Cliff.

“This is heartbreaking, but the great news is that everybody’s alive,” he said. “I think we’re looking at a miracle here.”

Forney, 20 miles east of Dallas, was among the hardest-hit. Seven people were reported injured, and three were taken to hospitals.

South Arlington and adjacent Kennedale were also hit hard. Emergency personnel in Arlington reported seven injuries related to the storm, with one person in critical condition. Four minor injuries were treated in the emergency room at Arlington Memorial Hospital, and one man checked in to Methodist Hospital in Mansfield for help with his oxygen supply after losing electricity.

A spokeswoman for Parkland Memorial Hospital said no weather-related patients had been reported.

Airlines canceled more than 400 departures from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and another 40 incoming flights were diverted during the height of the storm.

D/FW International Airport spokesman David Magana said that airlines reported more than more than 110 aircraft sustained varying degrees of hail damage during the storm.

Some of the worst damage occurred in the southern Dallas County city of Lancaster.

Arlandra Garrett, a resident at the Portofino Apartments in Lancaster, recalled the moment the storm hit: “Everybody started screaming,” she said. “Then the apartment started shaking, and then we heard a lot of noise. The lights went off.

“It was over real quick,” she said. “It was over faster than four blinks.”

Her apartment building appeared unscathed, but two other buildings in the complex suffered serious damage. The complex, with about 320 units and up to 700 residents, was evacuated late Tuesday because of the damage and concerns about gas leaks.

The complex was littered with roofing debris and tree limbs. Windows were blown out and one building roof was completely ripped off. Winds had jostled cars around the parking lot and blown out the windows of one SUV.

Police cleared residents out of the heavily damaged buildings. Jazmine Daniel, 24, was at home in her apartment with three young kids when the storm hit. “I saw the funnel cloud drop. When it hit, it was taking the windows out of the Walgreen’s. It sounded like a bomb went off.”

As she talked, police led her and her children away from the damaged building. Asked what she would do next, she said: “We don’t know yet, that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

Linda and Brenda Nealy walked around their neighborhood assessing the damage. The twin sisters have houses on Potomac Drive near the Cedar Hill Christian Academy, which lost much of its roof. Roof shingles and boards were scattered across the Nealy sisters’ lawns

“This is our community,” Brenda said. “I never thought I’d be in a situation like this.”

They braved the heavy rain to check on neighbors whose houses were turned inside out.

“We are trying to offer help,” Linda said. “Our electricity isn’t working but at least we can help people” get organized and pick up the pieces of their houses that are left, they said.

East of Dallas-Fort Worth, a tornado also caused major damage in Forney.

The city reported extensive damage to Crosby Elementary and in the Diamond Creek subdivision, but officials hadn’t totaled the number of homes damaged because they were still canvassing neighborhoods. Non-residents were ordered out of the area.

In Diamond Creek, storm debris littered yards and sidewalks. Chunks of insulation lay along with children’s toys. Bags from overturned trash cans were strewn across sidewalks.

Officials said the staff and students of Crosby Elementary were moved to Criswell Elementary after the storm passed. Everyone was reported safe.

On Pin Oak Drive in Lancaster, a few houses had roofs blown off. Devarrius Foote was hiding in his bathroom when he heard the tornado. “It was a big whooshing sound,” he said. As soon as it went by, he said that he went outside and saw it between two houses across the street.

“I wasn’t scared. I was more amazed,” he said.

A neighbor, Tlexia Thomas, had a roof blown off, windows blown out, and living room furniture overturned.

“I came home crying,” said Thomas. “You can see the sky upstairs in my house,” she said.

As the tornado moved northeast out of Forney, it tore across farmland and then destroyed houses and businesses in Rockwall County.

It trapped about four people in the debris of their homes as it demolished six to eight houses in the Bent Tree subdivision in an unincorporated part of the county south of Royse City, said Rockwall County Sheriff Sgt. Robert Mitchell. Mitchell said the people were rescued and did not sustain serious enough injuries to be transported to hospitals. About 12 other houses in that neighborhood were significantly damaged, Mitchell said.

The twister then destroyed several businesses and houses north of State Highway 276 near the Rockwall-Hunt county border, he said.

A tornado also reportedly touched down near Royse City, causing property damage and downing power lines. The Royse City Herald Banner, quoting the Hunt County Emergency Management coordinator, reported three homes extensively damaged on State Highway 276.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Dallas Mayor Rawlings, City Manager Mary Suhm and Police Chief David Brown loaded into two police SUVs to tour the damage in southern Dallas County.

Heavy property damage was reported in a neighborhood just north of Bonnie View Road and Interstate 20. Seven homes were totally demolished, and 47 homes damaged, including 40 that were considered uninhabitable, city officials reported.

Nearby, 50 tractor-trailer trucks were damaged at a trucking company, Dallas County officials said.

Two shelters were set up for residents in the area who needed a temporary place to stay.

Dallas Fire Chief George Tomasovic said gas has been cut off to the damaged homes and an additional 100 homes in the neighborhood were without power.

There were, as of Tuesday evening, no reports of injuries in the area, Tomasovic said. “That’s just amazing,” he said.

Tornado warnings began sounding about noon, as a rapidly intensifying band of storms blew out of the south toward Fort Worth. As storm sirens wailed throughout Tarrant County, authorities urged residents to take cover immediately. Right away, storm spotters reported seeing funnel clouds.

On Interstate 20, near the Parks Mall, television news footage showed an 18-wheeler squashed flat by high winds and a possible tornado strike. Nearby, at a storage depot, trailers were scattered by high winds.

Arlington fire officials said the storms caused damage to about 150 homes southwest Arlington, but only 3 injuries.

Weather spotters and amateur radio operators reported hail throughout Tarrant and Denton counties.

About the same time, another storm cell roared out of Ellis County and into eastern Dallas County, trumpeted by tornado warnings.

Storm spotters in Tarrant and Dallas counties reported large hail and tornadic winds as the storms moved through the area.

Dallas officials sounded sirens for tornado warnings about 1:30 p.m. and officials also activated the emergency operations center in the basement of Dallas City Hall.

As late as 4 p.m., tornadoes were still being reported in Hunt County.

Schools found ways to keep students out of harm’s way. Both Arlington and Fort Worth school districts reported that they were sheltering students in schools. After-school activities were cancelled. Some schools in southwest Arlington reported power outages.

At Shackelford Junior High School in Arlington, students ducked into hallways away from windows, crouching and covering their heads. Seagoville High School ushered students into the auditorium.

Meanwhile, drivers sought shelter wherever possible, including places like a gas station in Farmer’s Branch. Midafternoon, Sadiq Rasul stared at dark grey skies at his leased Shell station. “They will be safe,” he said, nodding at the drivers. At 3:15 p.m., he heard of a tornado touching down near President George Bush Turnpike. “That’s very close,” he said.

Rasul turned to prayer.

“I have already recited some suras — from the Holy Koran.”

(c) 2012 The Dallas Morning News

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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