A gas field worker lost his arm early Thursday near Lillian in northern Johnson County when severe straight-line winds and rain slammed into North Texas, causing widespread damage throughout the region.
The man, whose name was unavailable, was taken to an area hospital in critical condition, said Gerald Moore, emergency management coordinator for Johnson County.
Johnson County was among the hardest-hit areas in North Texas. The Hurst-Euless-Bedford area of Northeast Tarrant County also suffered pockets of heavy damage and the H-E-B school district canceled school on Thursday. Some schools in other school districts were closed for lack of power.
The injured man near Lillian was the first report of serious injuries caused by the storm. Moore said the man's arm was severed when the travel trailer he was in overturned several times in the wind.
Numerous trailer homes were severely damaged in the area, which is west of Lillian, between County Roads 600 and 604, Moore said.
The Red Cross has established a shelter at the First Baptist Church of Lillian.
"Teams on the ground are seeing downed power lines, trees down and skirting off of mobile homes," said Anita Foster, Red Cross spokeswoman. "As the sun rises, we will be able to better assess not only this area, but many other affected areas."
School officials in Alvarado were preparing to set up the junior high gym as a shelter for storm victims if two other shelters at the First Baptist Church of Lillian and the Alvarado Senior Citzens Center overflowed, said Superintendent Chester Juroska.
“At the moment we’re on standby,” Juroska said. “They’re expecting an overflow tonight. We’ll probably have to open up one of our gyms. If we’re lucky, not of that will happen.”
The storms struck at about 3:30 a.m. Thursday, packing a combination of straight-line winds and tornadoes, said Dan Shoemaker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. The strongest wind gust — 75 miles per hour — was recorded at 3:45 a.m. at DFW Airport.
“This kind of squall line usually produces brief, quick tornadoes that spin down and then spin back up,” he said. “We won’t know how many this storm produced until we get a look at all the debris. But I definitely think we’ll find some tornadoes.”
The weather service has already dispatched personnel to examine damage in Metroplex, he said.
The storms formed as the result of an upper system moving into the “warm, most Gulf atmosphere that had been sitting above North Texas,” Shoemaker said. The collision created wind sheer, widespread lift and instability — all the ingredients to create a squall line capable of producing tornados.
As the storms blew through, the weather service issued tornado warnings that stretched from Bell County north to the Red River, he said.
The storm developed in West Texas and moved quickly from west to east. Three inches of rainfall were reported in Denton and 2 inches or less were reported throughout the Metroplex, Shoemaker said. The worst flooding was reported in White Rock Creek in Dallas.
The fierce winds scattered three tractor-trailer rigs and other large trucks at an industrial park in far northeast Fort Worth, leaving some on their sides and one upside down.
Debris was scattered across roads, and a toppled 18-wheeler forced the closure of Loop 820 near Trinity Boulevard. Another overturned big rig on Interstate 35W at FM917 near Alvarado caused traffic to be diverted to an access road. They were two of at least three reported road closures due to overturned trucks.
Major destruction seemed everywhere at the industrial park off of Handley Ederville Road. Aside from the overturned vehicles, trees were snapped in half, signs were blown down and Cliff Malaer of Beeville was glad to be alive.
Malaer, who works for Tetra Tech, a gas field service company, was asleep in a trailer near a drilling site around 3 a.m. when a fellow worker came to ask him a question.
"I told him to wake me up at 3:30 a.m.," Malaer said, "and before he could reach his truck, it hit us. I could feel the pressure and then I could feel it lifting up the trailer.
"It scared the fire out of me."
The trailer started flipping from side to side, Malaer said, until it crashed into a street sign pole, "or else it would have kept going," Malaer said.
He climbed out of the wreckage with a bruised elbow, a jammed thumb and a scratch on his ankle.
Malaer said he never experienced anything like that in his life, even though he lives near the Texas gulf coast and has had to evacuate for hurricanes several times.
"I was very fortunate that the Good Lord was taking care of me tonight," he said.
More damage was revealed as the sun came up over that area. A large portion of the roof was sheered off at an ATT building in the 7500 block of Jack Newell Boulevard in Fort Worth.
A tornado warning was issued for DFW Airport as the severe storm grazed the south side of the airport, said Ken Capps, airport spokesman.
An actual funnel cloud was not yet confirmed early Thursday, but 75 mph winds were clocked at the airport's operation center, Capps said. He added, however, that there was no hail or lightning strikes.
"That is good news for the airport and passengers," Capps said. "No significant delays or cancellations are anticipated from the weather."
Capps noted, however, that officials did expect delays and cancellations as American Airlines continued its FAA-mandated re-inspection of MD80 aircraft. The airline reported that 900 flights were canceled system wide on Thursday.
The Birdville school district was closing South Birdville, Watauga and Richland elementary schools today, because they have no electrical power.
“We’re communicating with parents and asking them to pick up children,” said Birdville spokesman Mark Thomas. “For those who are at work and can’t leave, we will have staff here to watch them.”
Overall, damage to schools was minimal, Thomas said.
But parents of students in the Hardeman and Foster Village elementary schools in the Birdville district may pick up their children early today, the district has announced. Classes are continuing as normal, but electrical service at the two schools has not been fully restored, leaving them with no air conditioning.
Only parents or emergency contacts listed in school records will be able to pick up students. Staff will remain at the schools until all students are picked up. There will be no after-school activities at these campuses.
A portable classroom building at Richland Middle School was destroyed after the storm picked up the shell of the building, moved it to another location on the campus, and crushed it, Thomas said.
The roof of Richland Middle School also sustained damage, but no water got into the building, said Thomas.
All classes were canceled in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district. District officials were still assessing damage to schools as of 10:30 a.m., said H-E-B spokeswoman Judy Ramos.
Power was out at several campuses in the Grapevine-Colleyville school district. Students were released from Colleyville Heritage High School at 10:15 a.m.
Bransford Elementary also was without power because of an early-morning accident nearby. At 8:45 a.m., Glenhope Elementary lost part of its power and Colleyville Elementary lost all of its power, but both campuses were fully restored by about 10 a.m.
But classes were not canceled or delayed at other campuses in the district. Classes continued at four other district schools that had lost power, with teachers and students using available natural light in the buildings and “making the best of it,” said district spokeswoman Megan Overman.
Overman said damage in the district was minimal, including tree branches and windscreens blown down.
Heritage Elementary, Heritage Middle, and the GCISD Early Childhood Development Center began the day without power because of Wednesday night’s storms. Bransford Elementary also was without power due to an early morning accident in the area.
At 8:45 a.m., Glenhope Elementary and Colleyville Elementary lost power, but it came back on at those schools after about 15 minutes.
Liberty Elementary in the Keller school district closed today because of a power outage. In the Northwest district, crews were restoring electricity to Haslet Elementary but school had not yet been canceled.
Strong winds destroyed one portable building and damaged others at Richland Middle School in Richland Hills, police said. Several roofs on businesses in southern Richland Hills also were damaged from the storms.
DAMAGE IN NORTHEAST TARRANT
Like many families, the Marley family of Hurst woke up at 3:30 p.m. to the sound of angry thunder and fierce winds. Their 8-year-old AlyssaÖ was screaming, and parents Mike and Satomi, who is three months pregnant, put her in a bathtub with a mattress.
With the flashes of lightning, Mike Marley could see the damage occurring in his yard on Cedar Street.
“Oh, Lord,” he thought.
Daylight revealed the damage.
Marley’s front window were broken. Shingles flew into the window, then landed into a space between his house and a car, damaging the car slightly. His fence and a big tree in the backyard fell down. One of the tree branches was bent back. The street sign for Cedar and Precinct flew off, landing somewhere on the street.
Much of the debris on Cedar came from Hurst Community Park across the street. The 45-acre facility was devastated. The fences were bent over. Backstops were destroyed at four baseball fields. Canopies were completely damaged, with some of the green awnings blown across the street.
“It’s going to be awhile before we get them up and going again,” parks planner and operations manager Paul Liska said.
The city also set up a shelter at the Brookside Convention Center, which was expected to get help from the Red Cross.
Resident P.J. Roth, who also lives in Cedar Street, said a trash can from the park flew all the way across the street, denting her blue Grand Cherokee.
“We were lucky,” Roth said, saying no one had been hurt. “We pick up and we move along.”
Mike Marley remained in good spirits.
“I have to be,” he said. “Life is too short to be down and out. Don’t stress.”
Haltom City Manager Tom Muir said the city may issue a disaster declaration due to damage from the storm.
Damage to about a dozen residences was reported in northwest Colleyville near Liberty Elementary School. Most of the damage was on Herbert Road, and includes a flipped recreational vehicle, roof damage, and a trampoline thrown into the trees, said Mona Gandy, city spokeswoman.
On Herbert Road near Liberty Elementary, Carolyn Williams surveyed the damage at her home. Trees were broken off and her neighbors 26-foot camping trailer was blown a short distance into her back yard, where it sat on its roof, wheels and stabilizing supports pointed at the partly cloudy sky just before noon Thursday.
A large tree in front yard had blown over onto the cab of a red, Chevrolet Z-71 pickup her husband, Wesley, had picked out and purchased for her new when he proposed to her in 1997. It appeared to be totaled, she said.
“We were asleep, we woke up from loud noises outside, we could tell it was raining outside,” said Williams, 53. “It was like a train going by, the noise, the shaking of the house.”
After it passed the couple went out to find the damage, Carolyn Williams said.
Strong winds ripped roofs off several business in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford area, snapped huge tree limbs, uprooted trees and downed power lines and fences.
“It had been raining for about a half hour when the power went out,” said Earl Alzner, a 7-Eleven clerk in Hurst, who was working when the storms blew into Hurst. “Then things started falling off my building.”
Alzner said he was more concerned with his one customer.
“We went to the back of the store,” Alzner said. “It lasted about 30 minutes.”
The roar of the storm kept Shirley Carpenter of Bedford from hearing the city’s warning sirens which went off shortly before 3:30 a.m.
“It was scary,” Carpenter said this morning as she stood in front of her Bedford home on Ravenswood Drive. A huge tree limb lay on her back fence.
“I didn’t even know it had been knocked down until I saw a fire truck outside and looked outside,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter’s neighbor Cathie Smith said her backyard was a mess from fallen tree limbs.
Sean Hughes, emergency management coordinator for North Richland Hills, said there have been reports of down trees mostly in the north end of North Richland Hills and power outages in various parts of the city. Nothing major though, Hughes said.
“We were very lucky,” he said. “We contacted other cities and we’re ready to assist them if needed.”
Dozens of traffic lights were reported out across Fort Worth, causing traffic to back-up at some intersections, said Janice Thompson-Burgess, spokeswoman for the Traffic and Transportation Department.
A stoplight at Western Center Boulevard and Beach Street was ripped out of the ground; others were blown backward by the wind, she said. As the power comes back on line, most of the lights will flash red.
“We just ask people to take their time and proceed with caution,” she said.
About 40 downed tree limbs were blocked streets, she said. City crews have been working to remove them since 4:30 a.m.
Lt. Kent Worley, fire department spokesman, said between 3:20 a.m. and 8:20 a.m., firefighters responded to 175 incidents. Of those, 70 were utility-related such as downed power lines, blown transformers or other electrical issues and 30 were commercial or residential automatic alarms going off due to the power surges, he said.
“Ever after the major storms went through, you continued to have limbs that were weakened by the storm that maybe didn’t actually come down for another hour or two,” Worley said. “It was just a continuing process.”
Fort Worth police dispatchers were receiving reports of dark intersections and trees and power lines down but no other significant damage or injuries from the storm.
Rita Eatherly, a spokeswoman for the Colonial Country Club, said power went out at the club about 3:30 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., electricity was partially restored, she said, but the kitchen remained without power.
“We can serve cold items but as far as hot food, we’re not serving it,” Eatherly said.
Arlington had some downed trees and power outages but survived this morning’s storm without injuries or major damages, said Irish Hancock, the city’s emergency management administrator.
As of 7:40 a.m. as many as 14,000 homes and business were without power, Hancock said.
In Arlington, police dispatchers reported a power outage at Green Oaks and Interstate 20 had knocked out traffic signals and officers were on the scene.
Dispatchers reported earlier outages and downed trees at a handful of locations scattered across the city.
"We had no major damage, just the usual things you see across the Metroplex when you have a storm like this," Hancock said.
METROPLEX POWER OUTAGES
Oncor Electric Delivery reported 160,000 customers without power in Tarrant and Dallas counties.
"We can't narrow it down right now," said Jeamy Molina, Oncor spokeswoman. "It's widespread throughout the Metroplex."
Molina urged residents who see downed power lines to not go near them, but to report them by calling 911.
To report a power outage, Molina said customers can call the toll-free phone numbers listed on their electric bills. They should also note their "ESI" identification numbers and have them ready when an Oncor representative answers the call.
Burleson officials reported that 21 homes and commercial buildings were damaged, and an 18-wheeler overturned shortly before 4 a.m. Thursday in the northbound lane of the 3700 block of Interstate 35, south of Farm Road 917.
I-35 was shut down until approximately 7:30 a.m., said spokeswoman Sally Ellertson. Pallets, sheet metal, downed power lines and other debris littered the highway.
The Atlas Pallet company building near the accident scene was heavily damaged.
A portable office building was overturned, and several buildings were damaged, she said.
Serious damage reports were coming in from Collin counties and DeSoto in southern Dallas County. Traffic was slow on Texas 360 near Pioneer Parkway for several hours due to debris.
Several residents were evacuated because of water damage at The Arbors on Wintergreen, a senior living center in DeSoto. One resident described a loud noise and the building shaking before a piece of the roof peeled away.
The complex is near Hampton and Wintergreen roads. Wintergreen Road was closed due to debris on the road.
Staff writers Domingo Ramirez Jr, Paul Bourgeois, Alex Branch, Katherine Cromer-Brock, Jessica DeLeon, Adrienne Nettles, Bill Teeter, John Kirsch, Deanna Boyd, Terry Webster, Elizabeth Campbell, Martha Deller, and Sarah Bahari, and Photographers Paul Moseley, Ralph Lauer and Darrel Byers contributed to this report, which also contains material from The Associated Press.