At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage this weekend, while six people died in flooding in the Midwest.
It was the latest of a succession of powerful weather events across the country, from heavy snow in New Mexico, west Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle to flash flooding in parts of the Plains and Midwest. Days of tumultuous weather have led to 36 deaths overall — those in Texas, plus five in Illinois, one in Missouri and 19 in the Southeast.
The full extent of damage along a nearly 40-mile stretch near Dallas was becoming clear Sunday: houses destroyed, vehicles mangled, power lines down and trees toppled. Heavy rain and wind hampered cleanup efforts on Sunday afternoon.
“This is a huge impact on our community and we're all suffering,” Garland Police Lt. Pedro Barineau said of the community about 20 miles northeast of Dallas, where eight people died, 15 were injured and about 600 structures, mostly single-family homes, were damaged.
The weather service said an EF-4 tornado, which is the second-most powerful with winds up to more than 200 mph, hit the community at about 6:45 p.m. Saturday. It was near the intersection of Interstate 30 and George Bush Turnpike, which is a major route in the region. At least three people who died were found in vehicles, said Barineau, who also noted that some cars appeared to be thrown from the interstate, though it wasn't known whether that was the case for the people found in the vehicles.
Natalie Guzman, 33, took photos of her family's home in a neighborhood of Garland, a large Dallas suburb. The garage wall had collapsed and the roof fell in. The only part of the house that appeared to be spared was a bathroom, where her brother-in-law took shelter Saturday night. He was the only one at home and told her he had just enough time to get himself and his dogs into the bathroom.
“It was worse than I thought,” Guzman said, comparing the scene to the photos her brother-in-law had sent the night before.
The destruction in Garland was so overwhelming that Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins declared the city a disaster within mere minutes of seeing the toll firsthand.
“I don't declare local disasters lightly,” Jenkins said. “But I looked at the scene for 10 minutes, spoke to the incident commander and then called the lawyers to bring the paperwork.”
In the nearby town of Rowlett, City Manager Brian Funderburk said Sunday morning that 23 people were injured, but that there were no deaths and no reports of missing people. The weather service said damage indicated it was likely an EF-3 tornado, which has winds up to 165 mph.
Dale Vermurlen lived in a Rowlett neighborhood that sustained heavy damage. His house only had minor damage, but was next to that were flattened.
“I grabbed both dogs by the collars and held on to the toilet. I said ‘OK this could be it boys.’”
Homes in the neighborhood that had been searched by emergency responders were marked with a black X. In some instances, it looked as if homes had been picked up and set back down in a big pile. State troopers were blocking off roads, utility crews were restoring power and people were walking around hushed and dazed.
Three other people died in Collin County, about 45 miles northeast of Dallas, according to sheriff's deputy Chris Havey, although the circumstances were not immediately clear.
Weather service meteorologist Matt Bishop in the Fort Worth office said the tornado outbreak at this time of the year for North Texas occurs “from time to time ... but it's certainly not something that happens regularly.”
On the other side of the state, a snowstorm was accompanied by plunging temperatures. The Texas Department of Public Safety in Amarillo strongly discouraged travel throughout the entire Texas panhandle — a 26-county area covering nearly 26,000 square miles — because blowing and drifting snow had made the roads impassable. Interstate 40 west of Amarillo to the New Mexico border will be closed until Monday morning.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency as there were blizzard conditions and an ice storm warning out west and flood warnings in the east, where one community had received 9 inches of rain.
Further north, rain caused dangerous driving conditions and flooding in Missouri and Illinois. A part of Interstate 70 was closed near St. Louis on Sunday because of water over the roadway, and KYTV reported that authorities recovered the body of a driver from a creek in the southwest part of the state on Saturday. Also Saturday, three adults and two children drowned in southern Illinois when the vehicle they were riding in was swept away and sank in a rain-swollen creek.
The death toll in the Southeast linked to severe weather rose to 19 on Sunday when Alabama authorities found the body of a 22-year-old man whose vehicle was swept away while attempting to cross a bridge; a 5-year-old's body was recovered for that incident Saturday. Ten people have died in Mississippi, and six died in Tennessee. One person was killed in Arkansas.
The Associated Press