GRANBURY, Texas (AP) — Habitat for Humanity spent years in a North Texas subdivision, helping build many of the 110 homes in the low-income area. But its work was largely undone during an outbreak of 16 tornadoes Wednesday night that killed six people and injured dozens.
On Thursday, authorities combed through debris in Granbury, while residents awaited the chance to see what was left of their homes. Witnesses described the two badly hit neighborhoods as unrecognizable, with homes ripped from foundations and others merely rubble.
Granbury, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, bore the brunt of the damage. The National Weather Service's preliminary estimate was that tornado had wind speeds between 166 and 200 mph. Other tornadoes spawned from the violent spring storm damaged nearby Cleburne and Millsap.
"I tell you, it has just broken my heart," said Habitat for Humanity volunteer Elsie Tallant, who helped serve lunch every weekend to those building the homes in a Granbury neighborhood and those poised to become homeowners.
Hood County Commissioner Steve Berry said Thursday he couldn't tell one street from another in Granbury's Rancho Brazos Estates neighborhood because of the destruction. Half of one home was torn away while the other half was still standing, glasses and vases intact on shelves. Trees and debris were scattered across yards, and fences were flattened. Sheet metal could be seen hanging from utility wires.
The weather service said the preliminary storm estimate for the Granbury tornado was an EF-4, based on the Fujita tornado damage scale. An EF-5 is the most severe.
Of the homes in the Rancho Brazos Estates, 61 of them were built by Habitat for Humanity, according to Gage Yeager, executive director of Trinity Habitat for Humanity in Fort Worth. He said most of those homes were damaged, including at least a dozen that were destroyed.
Raul Rodriguez was among the lucky few: His Habitat for Humanity home was still standing. The 42-year-old mechanic rode the storm out in a closet with his wife and three children. They heard the windows shattering outside but realized their fortune when they emerged to see a heartbreaking scene.
"Injured people, bloody people, started coming to our house, asking us to call 911," said Rodriguez, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than two years. He assessed his own home, finding only shattered windows, lost roof shingles and a collapsed garage.
"My neighbors to the right, they lost everything," he said.
Habitat for Humanity homes, built for low-income buyers using volunteer labor and donations, are financed with affordable loans. The nonprofit selects homeowners based on their level of need, willingness to become partners in the program and ability to repay their loan. Homeowners invest their own time into building the homes as well.
Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bill Jackson said the damaged or destroyed homes were insured and can be rebuilt. But that doesn't alleviate Tallant's pain. She'd gotten to know the people who had waited for years to become homeowners.
"We were going to dedicate a house this weekend, and her home was destroyed," she said.
Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds said Thursday afternoon that two of the dead were women and four of them men; one man and one woman in their 80s.
"Some were found in houses. Some were found around houses," Deeds said. Six or seven people have not been accounted for, he said at a news conference.
"I'm very confident we'll find those people alive and well," Deeds said, adding 37 injured people were treated at hospitals. "We're going to keep looking. We're not going to give up until every piece of debris is turned over."
Harold Brooks, a meteorologist at the weather service's severe storm lab in Norman, Okla., said May 15 is the latest into the month that the U.S. has had to wait for its first significant tornadoes of the year. Brooks said he would expect 2013 to be one of the least lethal tornado years since the agency started keeping records in 1954.
Earlier Thursday, about 20,000 homes and businesses in the region were without power. By the evening, it had dropped to nearly 3,500 homes and businesses.
Another tornado cut a mile-wide path through Cleburne on Wednesday, storm spotters told the National Weather Service. The weather service said it was estimated as an EF-3, which has winds between 136 mph and 165 mph.
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said Thursday morning that no one was killed or seriously hurt in the city of about 30,000 some 25 miles southeast of Granbury. Nine people suffered minor injuries, and upward of 150 homes were damaged and another 50 were destroyed.
Cleburne resident Derrek Grisham, 26, said he ran to his mother's home to check on her and his 10-year-old son, who was staying with her.
"I had to kick in the front door to get them out," he said, explaining the two had taken shelter in a bathtub.
On Thursday, he went through his mother's damaged home, salvaging items before the home is likely torn down. The roof had been ripped off and he said her belongings were a jumbled mass, but crosses had stayed in place on the living room wall.
Just a week after severe storms brought damaging wind and tornadoes to the St. Louis area, the threat of more dangerous weather is in the forecast. Hazelwood residents continue to clean up after a twister ripped through their community last week. But their mayor is hoping they'll now shift focus from patching roofs to preparing for the next round of storms.
Mayor Matthew Robinson says he hopes people heed the warning the next time the tornado sirens sound. "When they do," he said, "obviously you can see what we went through here in Hazelwood. People need to take shelter, because you never know. You never know when that train’s going to be coming.”
The mayor says if temporary tarps are damaged in this next round of storms, there are materials and supplies and volunteers that’ll come out again and help patch them up again.
Meanwhile residents in one storm-battered Hazelwood apartment complex are still trying to recover. That includes Renee Fletcher, who spent Tuesday gathering her things from her damaged apartment before they could be ruined by more bad weather.
Fletcher says some things have already been ruined. "There is significant molding that’s already taking place in the building," she said. "So definitely, you want to get your things out, but it’s not safe for you to be in there anyway."
Fletcher had lived at the Teson Garden Apartments when the tornado struck last week. All nine buildings in the complex were so badly damaged, they've been condemned. Police say residents have until 6:00 p.m. Wednesday to collect their belongings. Then the buildings will be closed up for repairs. Two of the buildings may need to be torn down.
All schools in the Hazelwood School District will be in session on Monday.
The district had called off school on Thursday, the morning after an EF-2 tornado damaged homes in the north county district. Some Hazelwood schools had reopened by Friday, but others had not.
District officials say classes will resume in all district schools Monday, with counselors on hand to talk with students who are dealing with emotional strain after the storms.
School buses will be running in all neighborhoods, but one stop had to be moved because of storm damage. According to the district website, the stop for West Middle School that is normally at Lynn Haven and Howdershell will be moved this morning only to Lynn Haven and Deville.
Hazelwood Mayor Matt Robinson says volunteer groups and businesses have dropped off some precious supplies for residents.The United Way will also be on site today (Friday) to help coordinate volunteer and donation efforts.
On the Hazelwood School District’s Facebook page, they are letting people know what needs to be donated:
Batteries for flash lights
Where: The Learning Center, 15955 New Halls Ferry Road in Florissant, MO.
Friday, April 12, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Some schools initially closed after Wednesday night's storms will be open today.
Shenandoah Elementary School in Chesterfield will hold classes today, despite roof damage. Parkway District officials say some students will meet in different classrooms until repairs are made.
Some schools in the Hazelwood district will also be back open today, but several other remain closed. Classes are cancelled at Hazelwood West High School, West Middle School, McNair Elementary, Russell Elementary, Armstrong Elementary, and West Early Childhood Center. After school activities are also cancelled.
Sad news as crews continue to cleanup efforts in North County.
An Ameren lineman died today while working to restore power in St. Ann. Reports are the worker, an 18 year veteran, came in contact with a live wire and was electrocuted.
Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel will be joining Hazelwood's Mayor Matthew Robinson to assess tornado damage this afternoon.
The politician grew up in Florissant and graduated from Hazelwood West High School.
They will be joined by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon who first did an aerial assessment of hard hit Sullivan in Franklin County this (Thursday) morning
The Governor declared a state of emergency in Missouri and also activated the State Emergency Operations Plan, which allow state agencies to coordinate directly with local jurisdictions to provide emergency services.
The American Red Cross St. Louis Area Chapter is moving the Hazelwood shelter to the civic center at 8969 Dunn Road because Armstrong Elementary School does not have power.
Six people spent the night in the Red Cross shelter at Armstrong Elementary last night after tornadoes ripped through the North St. Louis community.
Red Cross disaster assessment teams will begin canvassing tornado damaged neighborhoods in Hazelwood this morning, after police and fire have determined the area is safe.
Downed power lines and a gas leak have prevented first responders from allowing assessment teams in the affected areas. Assessments are required before the Red Cross can begin casework. Volunteers will likely start damage assessments sometime Thursday morning. Caseworkers expect to meet with clients Thursday afternoon.
Anyone in need of Red Cross assistance should call 314.516.2700. Those wishing to donate to the relief effort can call 314.516.2800 or visit redcross.org.
The Red Cross will provide safe shelter and warm food to those affected by the storm until other arrangements are available.
Franklin County officials reported damage county-wide. That includes widespread roof and tree damage. Sullivan was one of the hardest hit areas in the county. Several mobile homes were damaged at the Jergenson mobile home park. At least 4 people were injured there, mainly broken bones. Rescue crews have gone door to door, searching for additional victims. The storm struck the 1st Baptist Church in Union during a church service. Worshippers evacuated to a safe area of the church, which lost a large portion of it's roof, but no one was injured.
The cleanup will be long and arduous in Hazelwood after a tornado reportedly touched down their during last night's storms. Strike teams from St. Charles County were called in to assist local authorities about 8:30 p.m. Fire crews from St. Charles and the City of St. Louis were also called in. Ground zero was near Howdershell and Lynn Haven. At least one person became trapped after a tornado tossed a large tree onto a home at Howdershell and Octavia. Several buildings were damaged in that area and police have closed the roads leading into the neighborhood. The good news: There have been no reports of serious injuries in Hazelwood.
Multiple Tornado Warnings were issued for St. Charles County. Projected paths included St. Peters, Cottleville, and St. Charles; 370 Park; and West Alton. Radar also indicated rotation between O’Fallon and Lake St. Louis, as well as in the area near Defiance. Power outages are minimal in St. Charles County, but there are other problems, including road closures. Highway 94 is blocked just east of Portage des Sioux because of downed power poles and wires. A spokesperson for the county says they're not sure when that will be cleared. Also there's water covering Hwy H at Hwy 94. Multiple utility lines down or arcing in Dardenne Prairie, St. Peters, O’Fallon, and unincorporated county. And lightning strikes were reported in Lake St. Louis, Dardenne Prairie, Cottleville, and unincorporated areas.
Damage is also being reported in the Hill neighborhood of South St. Louis. In the 5600 block of Columbia, two homes were heavily damaged. The roof was ripped off one home and strewn across the block, causing additional damage to cars and other homes.
There were three confirmed tornado touchdowns on Wednesday night -- in Hazelwood, Florissant and Alton, Illinois.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency for the St. Louis area after the tornadoes and severe thunderstorms storms caused extensive damage and wide-spread power outages. Nixon will visit St. Louis Thursday to survey the damage with local officials.
The declaration allows local and state agencies to coordinate relief efforts for victims of Wednesday’s storms.