Tornado has cost Arlington $700,000 so far

ARLINGTON -- Arlington has spent an estimated $700,000 on police, fire and other emergency city services since April 3, when a tornado damaged 536 homes and injured seven people.

Those costs will continue climbing, possibly adding $500,000, Fire Chief Don Crowson told the City Council this week, as the city ramps up efforts to clear debris and trees and begins issu-ing construction-related permits so families can rebuild.

The council voted Monday night to extend the disaster declaration indefinitely and to authorize funding for expenses, such as overtime or cleanup contracts, while federal aid is sought.

"We're fortunate that no lives were lost, but debris and trash is still a major consideration," Crowson told the council about the need for continued funding.

The EF-2 tornado that tore a 4.6-mile path through Arlington and Kennedale was one of 17 that struck North Texas. Gov. Rick Perry has already issued disaster declarations for Dallas, Tarrant and Kaufman counties, and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials toured devastated neighborhoods in Arlington on Monday.

The April 3 tornadoes and hailstorms destroyed more than 350 North Texas homes and damaged at least 1,000, according to data collected by the Austin-based Southwestern Insurance Information Service.

Storm damage claims, already estimated at $300 million, could reach $500 million once vehicle and commercial business claims begin rolling in, group President Sandra Helin said Tuesday.

An estimated 20,000 vehicles were damaged by the storms, she said.

High threshold

Based on the state's storm damage estimates, Crowson told council members that the possibility of a federal disaster declaration -- and therefore financial assistance -- is "relatively low."

"The threshold is fairly high. Based on the preliminary feedback we're getting, it may be a difficult hurdle for us to cross," Crowson said. "The damage estimates coming in from the state are lower than our initial damage estimates."

Arlington, for example, considers 87 homes to be destroyed, or not longer inhabitable, but under the state's criteria, only 13 homes were, Crowson said. The city had also reported 99 homes as sustaining major damage -- needing at least 30 days of repairs to become habitable -- while the state counted only 35.

"I think from a life safety perspective, we have a certain perspective of what damage is. Then there's the actual physical assessment that takes place," Crowson said. "Those are two different things apparently. We are working with the state on that issue."

Mayor Robert Cluck said the city would actively pursue federal assistance to help residents and recover city expenses.

"We definitely will use our connections in Washington," said Cluck, adding that U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, toured damaged neighborhoods last week. "It would be nice if they helped us out. I think they should."

Cluck said it was too early to determine the tornado expenses' effect on the city's budget.

One week after the tornado, cleanup is largely complete in neighborhoods south of Interstate 20, Crowson said. Efforts will now shift to two areas north of Interstate 20 that suffered the worst damage, he said.

At least 40 large metal bins for construction waste have been placed in neighborhoods, Public Works Director Keith Melton said. Republic Waste Services, which handles the city's trash and recycling collection, is helping city employees from various departments with the cleanup, as are Tarrant County crews and private contractors, Melton said.

Tornado count rises

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service increased the tornado count from 16 to 17, adding a tornado that caused minor damage to trees and roofs in Coppell.

That tornado, rated EF-0, was about 75 yards wide and stayed on the ground for about two miles.

"With so many tornadoes it takes a while to get around to the smaller ones that produce localized damage," said meteorologist Ted Ryan, adding that he doesn't expect the tornado count to change again.

"We think this is it."

The tornado that struck Kennedale and Arlington was about 150 yards wide as it traveled north from the U.S. 287/Sublett Road area to the West Green Oaks Boulevard/Arkansas Lane area, according to the National Weather Service.

Lancaster and Dallas were hit by an EF-2 tornado, which was about 200 yards wide and was on the ground for about 7.1 miles, according to the weather service. In Forney, an EF-3 tornado about 150 yards wide left a path of destruction 8 miles long.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578