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Thursday, April 5, 2012 - Page updated at 06:00 a.m.
Tornado-wrecked Dallas assesses damage
By SCHUYLER DIXON and PAUL J. WEBER
The tornado hurtled toward the nursing home. Physical therapist Patti Gilroy said she saw the swirling mass barreling down through the back door, after she herded patients into the hallway in the order trained: walkers, wheelchairs, then beds.
"It wasn't like a freight train like everybody says it is," said Gilroy, who rounded up dozens to safety at Green Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. "It sounded like a bomb hit. And we hit the floor, and everybody was praying. It was shocking."
The National Weather Service said as many as a dozen twisters touched down in a wrecking-ball swath of violent weather that stretched across Dallas and Fort Worth. The destructive reminder of a young tornado season Tuesday left thousands without power and hundreds of homes pummeled or worse.
As the sun rose Wednesday over the southern Dallas suburb of Lancaster, one of the hardest hit areas, it was clear that twisters had bounced in and out of neighborhoods, destroying homes at random. Vehicles were tossed like toys, coming to rest in living rooms and bedrooms.
At one house, a tornado had seemingly dipped into the building like an immersion blender, spinning directly down through an upstairs bedroom and wreaking havoc in the family room below before lifting straight back up and away. A grandfather clock leaned slightly but otherwise stood pristine against a wall at the back of the downstairs room that was filled with smashed furniture and fallen support beams.
Despite the intensity of the slow-moving storms, only a handful of people were hurt, a couple of them seriously, and no fatalities were reported as of late Tuesday.
The Red Cross estimated that 650 homes were damaged. Around 150 Lancaster residents stayed in a shelter Tuesday night.
"I guess `shock' is probably a good word," Lancaster Mayor Marcus Knight said.
The exact number of tornadoes won't be known until surveyors have fanned across North Texas, looking for clues among the debris that blanketed yards and rooftops peeled off slats. Knight said city officials and weather experts were surveying the stricken areas Wednesday.
April is typically the worst month in a tornado season that stretches from March to June, but Tuesday's outburst suggests that "we're on pace to be above normal," said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Bishop.
An entire wing at the Green Oaks nursing home in Arlington crumbled. Stunning video from Dallas showed big-rig trailers tossed into the air and spiraling like footballs. At the Cedar Valley Christian Center church in Lancaster, Pastor Glenn Young said he cowered in a windowless room with 30 children from a daycare program, some of them newborns.
Ten people in Lancaster were injured, two of them severely, said Lancaster police officer Paul Beck. Three people were injured in Arlington, including two Green Oaks residents taken to a hospital with minor injuries, Arlington Assistant Fire Chief Jim Self said.
Gilroy said the blast of wind through Green Oaks lasted about 10 seconds. She described one of her co-workers being nearly "sucked out" while trying to get a patient out of the room at the moment the facility was hit.
Joy Johnston was also there, visiting her 79-year-old sister.
"Of course the windows were flying out, and my sister is paralyzed, so I had to get someone to help me get her in a wheelchair to get her out of the room," she said.
In one industrial section of Dallas, rows of empty tractor-trailers crumpled like soda cans littered a parking lot.
"The officers were watching the tornadoes form and drop," Kennedale police Chief Tommy Williams said. "It was pretty active for a while."
Most of Dallas was spared the full wrath of the storm. Yet in Lancaster, television helicopters panned over exposed homes without roofs and flattened buildings. Residents could be seen walking down the street with firefighters and peering into homes, looking at the damage after the storm passed.
Hundreds of flights into and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field were canceled or diverted elsewhere Tuesday. About 500 flights remained grounded Wednesday, airport officials said.
The storms knocked out power for thousands. Utility Oncor said nearly 14,000 homes and businesses, mainly in the Arlington area, still had no electricity early Wednesday.
Meteorologists said the storms were the result of a slow-moving storm system centered over northern New Mexico.
Dixon reported from Lancaster. Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant, Terry Wallace and David Koenig in Dallas, Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Angela K. Brown in Fort Worth and Robert Ray in Lancaster contributed to this report.
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