A series of powerful tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma and Texas on Wednesday evening, destroying homes, flipping cars and killing at least four people and injuring dozens, according to the authorities.
In Marshall County, Okla., two people were killed and one was critically injured when a violent tornado landed around 5 p.m., said Robert Chaney, the county’s emergency management director.
In Polk County, Texas, at least two people were killed and as many as 30 were injured when at least one tornado barreled through a subdivision of mobile homes and houses around dinnertime, the authorities said. The subdivision is in Onalaska, which is about 90 miles north of Houston and where a search and rescue effort was still underway.
“We are praying for — and helping — those in East Texas who were ravaged by tornadoes,” Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas wrote on Twitter late Wednesday night.
In Oklahoma, one of the people killed was found on a roadside, the authorities said, not far from J & I Manufacturing, which makes truck beds and bodies and was one of the two factories in the state that were struck and damaged. The other factory was Oklahoma Steel & Wire, which said on Facebook that it had taken a “substantial hit” but was fortunate that “all of our people are safe and accounted for.”
The winds were so strong, Mr. Chaney, the emergency management director, said, that a number of cars were “balled up from the force of the tornado,” and one was “up in a tree.”
At the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Madill, Okla., which was dedicated last year, the pastor was in a safe room built into the new rectory when the tornado hit, said Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. The pastor was unharmed, she said, but he reported that only one corner of the rectory was still standing and that the church had sustained damage to its south side and most of its windows.
“Because of downed power lines and a gas leak, we can’t get close enough to see the damage tonight,” Ms. Clay said.
Mr. Chaney said he was not sure how many people had been injured in Marshall County. The authorities, he said, had set up a command center in a Walmart parking lot in Madill and had surveyed damage and conducted search-and-rescue operations before dark fell on Wednesday night, he added.
Mr. Chaney said that, despite the coronavirus pandemic that has closed businesses across the country, most businesses and factories in Madill were open on Wednesday when the tornado struck.
“Everybody is taking the basic precautions that we can,” he said. “But basically everybody is working.”
About 15 minutes before Marshall County was hit, another tornado landed in Garvin County, Okla., about 80 miles to the north, and raked across the ground for about a mile, said David Johnson, the county’s emergency management director. Three houses as well as four or five barns, shops and outbuildings were damaged, he said, but no one was injured or killed.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said the tornado had damaged at least 12 homes, businesses and power lines in Marshall County. More than 7,000 people statewide had lost power, the department said.
The tornadoes were produced by intense storms that moved through the region on Wednesday, setting off warnings across parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, according to the National Weather Service.
“My office, the Texas Division of Emergency Management and other state agencies are working with local officials to provide immediate support to the areas devastated by this tornado,” Mr. Abbott said. “The state has already deployed response teams and medical resources to help Texans in need and to provide assistance to these communities.”
B. Milton Choate, the mayor of Onalaska, Tex., about 90 miles north of Houston, said that a “significant number” of houses in the town had been damaged or destroyed. He said he was not certain how many people had been injured but noted that “lots of people have been transported to the hospital.”
Olivia Ayala, 66, said she was standing at the stove in her mobile home frying fish and French fries when the tornado moved through her area of Onalaska, known as Yaupon Cove.
The community, which is home to many retirees, is made up of both trailers and houses, Ms. Ayala said.
“The noise, just the wind, it was so hard,” she said. “It was the worst five minutes ever.”
Ms. Ayala said she and her husband considered taking shelter in a garage next to their mobile home, but the door wouldn’t open when the power went out.
She said there was a large debris field and many snapped trees.
“We’ve got stuff from places that I don’t know,” she said of the debris, adding that her patio roof came down on her deck and a tree had fallen on her car.
Ms. Ayala added that emergency responders had checked on the residents and used a bulldozer to clear the debris. She said that one of her elderly neighbors appeared to be have been seriously injured in the mangled wreckage of the storm.
Polk County officials issued a disaster declaration on Wednesday night. Officials also opened the Onalaska Junior and Senior High Schools to serve as shelters but then urged residents to head to Dunbar Gym in Livingston, Texas, after both of the schools lost power.
Source: NY times