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Amid the DFW tornado wreckage, remarkable tales of survival

Posted Thursday, Apr. 05, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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Residents describe destruction in Arlington, Kennedale

By the numbers

15: Total estimated tornadoes in North Texas.

12: Confirmed tornadoes.

EF-2: Strength of the Kennedale/Arlington tornado, which was a quarter-mile wide, cut a 4.6-mile path, and packed winds up to 135 mph.

EF-3: Strength of the strongest tornado, in Forney.

18: Tornado warnings issued.

55: Severe thunderstorm warnings issued.

SOURCE: National Weather Service office in Fort Worth

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Roberta Minonno has only one explanation for how she survived Tuesday's tornado, which tossed her mobile home into the air and rolled it over several times, destroying it.

"Jesus saved me. I have no doubt of that," said the Kennedale woman, who rode out the storm clutching her dog, Maxwell, and dodging flying debris, including a massive TV that she feared would surely crush them. "Yeah, tornadoes do weird things, but you see what's here. I was inside that."

Like many residents of Kennedale, Arlington and other hard-hit areas, Minonno spent Wednesday retelling remarkable stories of survival and sifting through piles of debris, salvaging what few belongings were left behind.

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth estimated that 15 tornadoes touched down -- near Joshua, Arlington-Kennedale, Lancaster, Forney and Royse City -- damaging hundreds of homes and injuring at least 20 people.

Damage estimates climbed significantly in Arlington, where an EF-2 tornado -- the same one that hit Kennedale -- touched down in three areas along the city's western edge.

City officials said Thursday that more than 500 homes and apartments, largely between Arkansas Lane and U.S. 287/Sublett Road and between Perkins and Kelly Elliott roads, were damaged when winds estimated at 135 mph roared through shortly after lunch, officials said.

Seven people in Arlington were injured. One was reportedly hospitalized with critical injuries, Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson said Wednesday. Crowson later said that he believed that all the injured were in stable condition or better.

'I just started praying'

Linda Strickland, Minonno's neighbor in the mobile home park on Kennedale-New Hope Road, said she watched the funnel cloud form as she sat at her front door.

"All I could see was it spinning in an arc, and then I heard a whistling sound," she said Wednesday. After retreating to her bedroom, she said, "I just started praying. I prayed for us all, but especially for Roberta. I asked God to take our homes but leave us."

In the perfect silence after the tornado passed, the first thing Strickland heard was Minonno's cries for help. Another neighbor helped her stand up and move away from the wreckage.

"I kept telling her, 'You are OK! You are OK!'" Strickland said.

A total of 45 homes and six businesses were damaged in Kennedale, city spokeswoman Amethyst Cirmo said.

"They range from minor damage to total loss," she said.

Kennedale Mayor Bryan Lankhorst and Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck have signed disaster declarations that pave the way for state and federal aid, if approved.

Gov. Rick Perry flew over the affected areas Thursday morning.

Alert system credited

In Arlington, Cluck credited the lack of deaths or serious injuries to his city's disaster response.

"Everything worked in the city," Cluck said at a news conference.

The disaster response began when the city's alert system was activated at 1:17 p.m. "The sirens worked. The early warnings worked," Cluck said. "That's why I think everybody's alive today."

Designated as hardest-hit were the area near Martin High School, where more than 180 homes were damaged; the Chesterfield neighborhood along U.S. 287, where about 140 homes or apartments were damaged; and the Waterview area near Lake Arlington, where more than 100 homes were damaged.

Arlington officials designated a tornado recovery center for residents: the Fire Training Center, 5501 Ron McAndrew Drive, near West Green Oaks Boulevard and West Arkansas Lane. City staff will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to help, Crowson said.

Also sustaining heavy damage was the Green Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the 3000 block of West Green Oaks Boulevard, where a roof over one section collapsed.

One person was hurt, and 35 were moved to other nursing homes. Roof damage and overturned vehicles were also reported at the Chesterfield Apartments in the 5700 block of Median Way.

No major damage was reported at any of the city's natural gas well sites, Crowson said. Arlington has more than 300 wells.

The storm was the worst to hit Arlington since one in March 2000 damaged hundreds of homes.

Sifting through debris

After taking his physics test Wednesday, Martin High School senior Collin Lawrence tugged on his work gloves and began going through what was left of his family's demolished home on Quail Lane. Lawrence, 18, said his family huddled in the bathtub when the sirens began to wail and the power went out.

He and his 25-year-old brother covered their mom as best as they could as the house came down around them.

"I heard it coming and I started praying," Lawrence said. "Not a scratch on me, my mom or my brother. It was a true blessing."

Most of the house where they've live the past 10 years is gone, but the tuxedo he plans to wear to the prom next week was still hanging neatly on his bedroom closet door, now exposed to the street.

Jim Pinker and his wife were at work when the tornado hit their neighborhood, Oldfield Village. They didn't know that their Thorncliffe Drive home was heavily damaged until their daughter called from Houston to say she saw a picture of it on a news website.

Large trees crashed into the two-story home, and wreckage from a neighbor's trailer blocked the driveway.

"It's shocking when you first see it," Pinker said. "We can fix it."

Staff writers Terry Evans and Domingo Ramirez Jr. contributed to this report.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

Patrick M. Walker,

817-390-7423

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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