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Volunteers outnumber cleanup jobs in DFW areas hit by tornadoes

ARLINGTON -- Fifty-two football players from Bowie High School arrived in a tornado-damaged neighborhood Thursday afternoon to help haul away debris and live up to their team's name -- the Volunteers.

The young men jumped into action, quickly clearing tree limbs and other debris from the back yards of neighbors Judy Smith and Bridgette Newton.

"They're young, and they won't remember this in a year," Smith said, "but what a difference they made for us."

Charlton Brooks II, 16, said he and his teammates were happy to help.

"We've broken a little sweat, but we're straight," Brooks said. "We're all football players, so it's more fun than work."

The Volunteers joined hundreds of others who, like worker bees, have swarmed through hard-hit areas in Arlington, Kennedale and other North Texas cities, helping overwhelmed residents clear brush, cover roofs and salvage belongings block by battered block.

Gov. Rick Perry took a helicopter tour Thursday morning of the damage in Lancaster, where 10 people were injured, and later issued a disaster declaration for Dallas, Tarrant and Kaufman counties.

"Standing here in the rubble of these homes and people's irreplaceable treasures ... you have to thank God it wasn't worse," Perry said. "The reason it wasn't worse is because of these local first responders and how they dealt with this. When it comes to grace under pressure, I don't think there is a better example of it."

Perry suggested that Texas will eventually seek federal help and that the state must go through a "little bit of a bureaucratic process," starting with local officials completing a damage assessment.

The National Weather Service raised the number of Tuesday's confirmed tornado touchdowns to 14, up from the 11 confirmed Wednesday. The most recent addition was in east Dallas near Skyline High School, rated EF0 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the weather service said.

The Arlington Fire Department raised its assessment to 523 homes with some degree of damage. Fire Chief Don Crowson said city leaders plan to tour neighborhoods with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn today and discuss a federal disaster declaration, which could lead to financial assistance.

Firm estimates on the overall damage are not expected before next week, said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, who has predicted that costs could run in the tens of millions of dollars. There had been 7,500 claims for structural damage and more than 20,000 claims for vehicles by Thursday morning, he said.

More volunteers

than cleanup jobs

The outpouring of help has been so great that both Arlington and Kennedale said late Thursday that they don't need more volunteers.

"At this time, we have more volunteers than cleanup jobs," Arlington officials said in a news release. "However, in the event that additional volunteers are needed, the City will post a call for volunteers on the Tornado Recovery Center web page."

In west Arlington, Nancy Springer was surprised when members of Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth stopped by with a chain saw to help remove fallen limbs from her back yard.

"I have new friends," she said, smiling, as Senior Pastor David Daniels and his wife, Tiffany, cut up branches and stacked them by the curb.

Springer's next-door neighbors Terry and Lori Jones, whose home was also damaged, are members of the church and enlisted the help.

"This is when community really matters," David Daniels said.

Plenty of companies pitched in, too, including The Home Deport.

Members of Team Depot, from regional executives to hourly associates, were recognizable by their orange shirts.

On Thursday, about 65 employees joined the Arlington cleanup, district manager Larry Waterman said. The company also had crews in the Lancaster and Forney areas.

"Giving back is one of Home Depot's core values," said Reed Lewis, an employee from the north Irving store who was working near Martin High School in southwest Arlington. "It's just the right thing to do."

Helpers of all ages

In Kennedale, where a curfew was suspended after one night, 10 high school students from Pantego Christian Academy worked in the Rolling Acres subdivision. Having been to places such as Mississippi and New Orleans on mission trips, they said, they were glad to serve their own community.

Student Kelsey Murphy, who lives near a west Arlington nursing home that sustained heavy damage, said she had noticed all the volunteers working there.

"That's kind of what made me want to do this," she said.

A group of even younger volunteers helped in a different way. Cub Scouts from Pack 399 and their leaders made 200 sandwiches for older volunteers.

"We're trying to help people who got their house torn up," explained Brenden Methven, 8, a member of the pack from nearby Little Elementary.

The Volunteer Center of North Texas is organizing volunteers for damage cleanup, in partnership with a task force composed of the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and the North Texas Food Bank.

Prospective volunteers can register at www.vcnt.org/disaster.

"We've had thousands of people call us, e-mail us, since Wednesday morning," spokeswoman Victoria Williams said. "We're just overwhelmed with the response."

As of Thursday afternoon, the group had registered 3,000 volunteers.

"We want to create a standing corps of volunteers so we can put out e-mails immediately when something like this happens," Williams said.

Staff writers Alex Branch, Mitch Mitchell, Susan Schrock and Barry Shlachter contributed to this report.

Patrick M. Walker,

817-390-7423

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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