Property damage heavy in Cleburne, but no serious injuries reported

Posted Friday, May. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Hundreds of residents wrestled with downed trees and rushed to patch roofs Thursday, the morning after a tornado tore through the city.

But, Mayor Scott Cain said at an afternoon news conference, “they’re happy to be alive.”

Cleburne has 30 homes with “dramatic” damage, “600-plus” homes with some damage and 3,650 homes without power, but “zero fatalities and zero serious injuries,” Cain said.

Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon said most of the county’s damage was in the “incorporated area of the city of Cleburne.”

The preliminary estimate from the National Weather Service put the Cleburne tornado at a Category EF3 with winds peaking at 140 mph. It was 1,060 yards wide and 8.5 miles long.

It was one of two tornadoes that hit Johnson County on Wednesday night, all spawned by the same weather system that unleashed at least 16 across North Texas, including one that killed six people in neighboring Hood County.

Officials imposed a curfew from sundown Thursday to sunrise Friday. Cain issued a disaster declaration.

All Cleburne public school classes were canceled Thursday and Friday.

Harmon credited the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth for quickly seeing the danger and alerting people through the media.

“They did a terrific job,” Harmon said. “It was a significant part in why we didn’t have fatalities in Johnson County and Cleburne.

“Unfortunately for Hood County, the storms formed right up on top of them. They didn’t have the same time to prepare that we did.”

A weather service map of the tornado’s track showed that it formed near Farm Road 1434, southwest of Lake Pat Cleburne.

It went northeast across the south shore of the lake and kept going until it fell apart on West Westhill Drive in southwest Cleburne.

Neighborhoods on the southeast side of the lake were hit the hardest. Some were flattened.

“A couple families were trapped in their homes,” Cain said.

They were rescued, but first responders searched through the night, door to door, in case anyone else was trapped.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Department officials did likewise in rural areas.

Although some people were taken to hospitals, none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening, Cain said.

“No one is missing that we know of,” Cain said. “So far it’s not as bad as it could have been.”

Left powerless

Still, people whose homes were struck were struggling with a lot of debris. Many roofs were punctured or gone entirely.

An army of utility crews from Oncor Electric Delivery worked to restore power. Cain said officials hoped to have electricity back by noon Friday to the more than 3,000 homes without it.

City officials were working with the Cleburne school district to possibly provide alternative classrooms for students from three damaged campuses: Gerard Elementary School, Lowell Smith Jr. Middle School and Cleburne High School.

Emaleigh Brooks, 9, a second-grader at Gerard, stood in a field overlooking her school, which had roof and brick damage, shattered windows and blown-out doors.

She wondered how life could get back to normal.

“This is awful,” she said with a quavering voice. “I’ve just never seen anything so bad.”

A Fire Department command post was set up at nearby Lowell Smith Jr. Middle School on Country Club Road, but the campus was otherwise empty.

A pickup was in the parking lot, flipped on its roof. A light pole had been blown off its concrete base.

A large shipping container that was used to store athletic equipment had been scooped up from where it was parked near the football field and thrown about 100 yards into the back of the school.

Fire Lt. L.B. Easden, president of the Cleburne school board, said many of the air-conditioning units atop the school were peeled away, allowing rain to pour into the building.

He said Fire Department crews were staging in the southwest part of the city.

“We expect a few fires when the power comes back on because of the wiring damage,” he said.

Bill Miller, 817-390-7684 Twitter: @Bill_MillerST

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