Residents assess damage from North Texas tornadoes

DALLAS - Preliminary findings indicate one of the tornadoes that struck North Texas had wind gusts ranging from 136 to 165 mph.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jesse Moore said Wednesday that a twister a day earlier in Forney, about 20 miles east of Dallas, appears to have registered as an EF3. That's two categories shy of the strongest.

Moore said tornadoes in Lancaster and Arlington appeared to be EF2 twisters. The wind gusts in that category range from 111 to 135 mph.

Moore says the weather service is still surveying damage throughout the area.

A twister can hit one spot and continue for miles before touching down again, Moore said. It's difficult to explain why a tornado touches down when it does.

"It can destroy one house and the one across the street is fine. It can go back up for a mile or two and drop back down," Moore said. "That's all the crazy things that can happen with tornadoes."

As many as a dozen twisters touched down across Dallas-Fort Worth. Thousands remained without power Wednesday and hundreds of homes were severely damaged.

Officials reported more than 20 injuries, but no deaths.

The Red Cross has estimated that about 650 homes in North Texas were damaged, with some structures a total loss.

"The area had 15 high wind reports. That's 70 mph or higher. They also had 54 hail reports and golf ball to baseball-sized hail," KPRC Local 2 chief meteorologist Frank Billingsley said.

"From the looks of the video, it appears some of the damage was caused by EF-3 tornadoes. Getting an EF-3 in Texas is rare. We had none in 2011, 3 in 2010, 1 in 2009 and zero in 2008. Last year in Alabama, there were a total of 42 EF-3 tornadoes which cause severe damage," KPRC Local 2 meteorologist Anthony Yanez said.

In suburban Dallas, Lancaster police officer Paul Beck said 10 people were injured, two of them severely. Three people were injured in Arlington, including two residents of a nursing home who were taken to a hospital with minor injuries after swirling winds clipped the building, city assistant fire chief Jim Self said.

"Of course the windows were flying out, and my sister is paralyzed, so I had to get someone to help me get her in a wheelchair to get her out of the room," said Joy Johnston, who was visiting her 79-year-old sister at the Green Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. "It was terribly loud."

Johnston said her sister was taken to the hospital because of her delicate health. Another resident at the nursing home, Louella Curtis, 92, said workers roused her out of bed and put her in the hall.

"The hallways were all jammed," Johnston said. "Everyone was trying to help each other to make a path for others. I'd say everybody was out of their rooms within 20 minutes."

Christina Jonah, 11, said she had just gotten home from school and was in bed when a tornado came through.

"I heard a bunch of stuff falling, so I rolled off the bed and started to get in the tornado position," she said. "Whenever I stopped hearing the stuff falling, I just came out and saw a huge hole."

Christina said she wandered downstairs and went outside. Most of the second floor of her home was gone. The ceiling and roof were gone. Most of her neighbors' homes were in the same shape.

Christina's school was heavily damaged, too. She said there was a tornado drill there on Monday and she learned something very important that day.

"Just to duck," she said.

Among the most stunning video was an industrial section of Dallas, where rows of empty tractor-trailers crumpled like soda cans littered a parking lot.

"The officers were watching the tornadoes form and drop," Kennedale police Chief Tommy Williams said. "It was pretty active for a while."

The confirmed tornadoes touched down near Royce City and Silver Springs, said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Bishop.

April is the peak of the tornado season that runs from March until June. Bishop said Tuesday's storms suggest that "we're on pace to be above normal."

Most of Dallas was spared the full wrath of the storm. Yet in Lancaster, television helicopters panned over exposed homes without roofs and flattened buildings. Broken sheets of plywood blanketed lawns and covered rooftops.

A pastor at one Lancaster church saw debris swirling in the wind, then herded more than 30 children, some as young as newborns, into a windowless room to ride out the storm. Nearby at the church's school, about 60 more children hid in another windowless room near the women's bathroom.

An entire wall of Cedar Valley Christian Academy wound up being taken out in the storm. Pastor Glenn Young said he didn't know when the school might re-open.

"I'm a little concerned," Young said. "This is our livelihood."

Residents could be seen walking down the street with firefighters and peering into homes, looking at the damage after the storm passed.

Devlin Norwood said he was at his Lancaster home when he heard the storm sirens. He said he made a quick trip to a nearby store when he saw the funnel-shaped tornado lower, kick up debris and head toward his neighborhood.

"I didn't see any damage until I got back home. We had trees destroyed, fences down, boards down, boards penetrating the roof and the house, shingles damaged," said Norwood, 50, an accountant and graduate student.

The storm pushed cars into fences and toppled trees. Branches and limbs scattered across lawns and residential streets, and in one driveway, a tow-behind RV was left torn apart and crumpled.

"Obviously we're going to have a lot of assessments to make when this is done," Dallas County spokeswoman Maria Arita said.

American Airlines canceled more than 450 arriving and departing flights at its hub airport by late Tuesday afternoon, and 37 other incoming flights had been diverted to different airports.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport canceled hundreds of flights and diverted others heading its way.

DFW Airport spokesman David Magana said more than 110 planes were damaged by hail. It wasn't clear how many belonged to American Airlines, but American and American Eagle had pulled 101 planes out of service for hail-damage inspections.

Flights also were canceled at Dallas Love Field, which is a big base for Southwest Airlines. That airline canceled more than 45 flights in and out of the airport by Tuesday evening.

Flights to and from both airports were delayed on Wednesday.

Meteorologists said the storms were the result of a slow-moving storm system centered over northern New Mexico.

Gov. Rick Perry plans an aerial tour of the damage on Thursday.

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