Deadly tornadoes hit Texas and Oklahoma, flatten buildings

IDABEL, Oklahoma.

IDABEL, Okla. (AP) – Residents of southeast Oklahoma and northeast Texas began assessing severe weather damage on Saturday, working to recover and grateful to have survived after an expanding storm from Dallas to northwest Arkansas spawned tornadoes and produced flash flooding, killing at least two people, injuring others, and leaving homes and buildings in ruins.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt traveled to the town of Idabel to view the damage. He said on social media that all homes were searched and a 90-year-old man was killed. Keli Cain, spokeswoman for the state Department of Emergency Management, said the man’s body was found at his home in the Pickens area of ​​McCurtain County, about 58 miles north from Idabel.

Morris County, Texas, Judge Doug Reeder said in a social media post that one person died from a tornado in far northeast Texas County, without giving further details.

Reeder and other county officials did not immediately return phone calls for additional comment.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol also reported a 6-year-old girl drowned and a 43-year-old man missing after their vehicle was swept away from a bridge near Stilwell, about 135 miles (217 kilometers) north of Idabel. The drowning has not been officially attributed to the storm and will be investigated by the medical examiner, Cain said.

On Saturday afternoon, Stitt declared a state of emergency for McCurtain County, where Idabel is located, and neighboring Bryan, Choctaw and LeFlore counties.

The declaration is a step in eligibility for federal aid and funding and clears the way for state agencies to make disaster recovery-related purchases without limits on bidding requirements.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said damage assessments and recovery efforts were underway in northeast Texas and encouraged residents to report damage to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“I have deployed all available resources to help respond and recover,” Abbott said in a statement. “I thank all of our state and local emergency management personnel for their quick response.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Darby in Tulsa said the full-scale storm produced heavy rainfall in the Stilwell area at the time, about 4 inches (10.16 centimeters).

Idabel, a rural town of about 7,000 at the foot of the Ouachita Mountains, suffered extensive damage, Cain said. “There are well over 100 homes and businesses damaged from minor damage to totally destroyed,” Cain said.

Trinity Baptist Church in Idabel was preparing to complete a new building when the storm tore through their sanctuary and flattened the shell of the nearby new structure, according to Pastor Don Myer.

The 250-member congregation was scheduled to vote after Sunday service on whether to go ahead with final work to complete the building, Myer told The Associated Press.

“But we haven’t come to that. Every vote counts and we had one vote outweighs all of us,” said Myer, 67. “We were right on the edge of that. That’s how close we were.

Myer said the congregation will pray over what happened, see how much their insurance covers, and work to rebuild. On Saturday morning, a few church members took an American flag that had been knocked down by the storm and raised it amid the rubble of the original church building.

Shelbie Villalpando, 27, of Powderly, Texas, said she was having dinner with her family on Friday when tornado sirens prompted them to congregate first in the hallways of their rented home and then with her children, aged 5, 10 and 14 year olds in the bathtub.

“Within two minutes of them being put in the tub, we had to lay on top of the kids because everything started going crazy,” Villalpando said.

“I’ve never been so terrified,” she said. “I could hear glass shattering and things shattering, but every time I walked out of the bathroom my heart and stomach would clench because I had kids and it could have been so much worse… What if our bathroom had collapsed like everything else?We wouldn’t be here.

Terimaine Davis and her son were huddled in the tub until the tornado ripped through Friday, reducing their Powderly home to a sagging heap with no roof.

“We left about five minutes before the tornado actually hit,” Davis, 33, told The Associated Press. “Me and my son were in the house in the tub and that was about the only thing left standing.”

In their driveway Saturday morning, a child car seat was leaning against a dented, gray Chevrolet sedan with several blown windows. In the back, his wife, Lori Davis, handed Terimaine a basket of toiletries from inside the wreckage of their home.

The couple and the three children who live with them had no rental insurance, Lori Davis said, and none of their furniture survived. “We’re going to have to start from scratch,” she said.

They hope to stay with their family until they find accommodation.

“The next few days are going to be difficult,” said Terimaine Davis.

Judge Brandon Bell, the highest elected official in Lamar County, where Powderly is located, has declared a disaster in that area. Bell’s statement said at least two dozen people were injured throughout the county.

Powderly is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Idabel and about 120 miles (193 kilometers) northeast of Dallas and both are near the Texas-Oklahoma border.

The Fort Worth National Weather Service confirmed three tornadoes — in Lamar, Henderson and Hopkins counties — Friday night as a line of storms dropped rain and sporadic hail over the Dallas-Fort Worth area. and continued to push east.

The weather service office in Shreveport, Louisiana said it was assessing damage in Oklahoma.

Weather Service meteorologist Bianca Garcia in Fort Worth said while peak severe weather season is usually in the spring, tornadoes occasionally develop in October, November, December and even January.

“It’s not very common,” Garcia said, “but it does happen in our area.”


Miller reported from Oklahoma City.

Jake Bleiberg and Ken Miller, The Associated Press

Carol N. Valencia