About 10 tornadoes slashed through parts of North Texas, leaving at least six people dead, dozens injured and more than 100 homes damaged or destroyed as the tornado season got off to a frenzied start.
At least three Texas counties -- Hood, Johnson and Montague -- were struck by tornadoes that began Wednesday evening and cut a wide swath through the region, where tornado activity is an annual occurrence. Weather observer teams will inspect the region, but the preliminary count of twisters by the National Weather Service stood at 10 by Thursday morning.
While tornadoes are common in the area, the ferocity of the storm this early in the season took officials by surprise. Aerial video showed a region of flattened homes and vehicles piled on each other in convoluted Lego shapes. Rubble, piles of wood and debris were all that was left of many buildings.
Hardest-hit seemed to be Granbury, Texas, a city of about 8,000 people 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth. At a nationally broadcast news conference on Thursday morning, Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds described the search for the bodies.
“Some were found in houses. Some were found around houses,” Deeds said. “There was a report that two of these people that they found were not even near their homes. So we're going to have to search the area out there.”
In all, Deeds said six people were dead, all adults. About 37 were injured and an estimated 110 homes were damaged or destroyed.
That toll, however, could rise, Deeds said, since the whereabouts of at least seven people remains unknown and at least one area just outside the Rancho Brazos subdivision had not been completely searched.
“We're not going to leave any stone unturned,” Deeds told reporters. “Everything is running smoothly, and so far there have been no reports of injured first-responders.”
Deeds said 250 people left the Granbury area for safety, about 90 of them from the Rancho Brazos subdivision, south of the city. Most of the homes were built in the past five years. Many were part of an effort by the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity program.
The area was hit by as many three tornadoes, said Deeds, describing how the emergency alarms worked well to warn residents on Wednesday. “It's definitely a nightmare,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a tough night in Hood County.”
About an hour after Granbury was hit, another tornado that storm spotters told the National Weather Service was a mile wide tore through Cleburne, a courthouse city of about 30,000 about 25 miles southeast of Granbury. No deaths were reported, but dozens of homes were damaged.
Another tornado hit the small town of Millsap, about 40 miles west of Fort Worth, and hail larger than most citrus fruit pelted the area around Mineral Wells.
Schools were closed in the areas and power lines were down, leaving tens of thousands of people without electricity, officials said.