Tornadoes hit area; Storms rip FW neighborhood, but no serious injuries reported

By Kim Horner and Nancy Calaway
Staff Writers

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FORT WORTH – A band of severe storms sliced through East Fort Worth during Tuesday afternoon’s rush hour, spawning at least one tornado and smashing homes but causing only minor injuries.

Tornadoes touched down in at least three places in Tarrant County, officials reported, evoking fears and memories of the deadly storms that slammed downtown Fort Worth and parts of Arlington in March 2000. Tornadoes were also sighted in Ellis and Johnson counties.

As the evening progressed, it became clear that the damage would not match the severity of the 2000 storm. But the fierce winds and hard rains seemed no less threatening to those affected.

“The wind was howling. The house was shivering,” Corey Patrick said after he and 10 relatives waited out the storm under a mattress in their Felder Lane home. “Pieces of the fence fell off like dominoes.”

The twister ripped off part of the roof, but Mr. Patrick said he was just thankful that no one was injured. “This can always be replaced,” he said, pointing at his house. “But everyone’s all right, and that’s the main thing.”

About 30 Fort Worth homes and many businesses were damaged, city officials said, though sunset and downed power lines cut short damage assessments in some neighborhoods.

Six injuries were reported in Fort Worth, most of them in a 53-vehicle traffic accident caused by the weather. None of the injuries was considered life threatening.

After hitting Tarrant County, the storms moved northeast, across Irving, Richardson and Plano before exiting the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Heavy rains caused localized flooding, and golf-ball-size hail damaged vehicles. But those areas saw none of the tornado activity that Fort Worth faced.

A southern wing of the same system hit Ellis and Johnson counties, with multiple tornado sightings but no significant damage. High winds overturned a tractor-trailer on Interstate 35E, damaged roofs and downed power lines, officials said.

Some of the worst damage was concentrated in Mr. Patrick’s Fort Worth neighborhood, near Loop 820 and Ramey Avenue, where dozens of homes and business were damaged.

Alton Wilkerson was driving through the area when the storm hit. He pulled over to wait it out, then watched the damage come: first, a chair whipped across Ramey, then a large tree toppled.

He was in the 6200 block when he saw the home in front of him disintegrate.

“I was going to seek cover and I couldn’t believe it, the house blew up right then,” Mr. Wilkerson said.

The homes still standing had varying degrees of damage, including missing patches of roofs and missing bricks from exterior walls.

Several people from the neighborhood were treated for injuries from flying glass, including Mr. Wilkerson, who had glass fly into his eye. One resident was being treated for a possible heart attack, emergency officials said.

Fort Worth authorities cordoned off the area to keep onlookers away and allow emergency workers and Red Cross volunteers to do their jobs.

The other hardest-hit area of Fort Worth was in the Handley neighborhood, where 10 young children were inside the day care at Handley United Methodist Church when the storm hit.

Workers rushed them to safety, away from windows, and no one was injured. The church sustained major damage, including losing a portion of the roof.

Bob Whitt, chairman of the Forest Avenue church’s board, said it is too early to say what the 300-member congregation will do about Sunday services.

“This is a faithful congregation. This is a resilient church,” said Jim Porter, district superintendent for the United Methodist Church in Fort Worth. “These are folks who can handle a situation like this and handle it faithfully. They are so thankful the children were not hurt.”

Within hours of the storm, the community was responding to the need. A Fort Worth lumber company donated plywood to board up the church’s buildings. Members of other Tarrant County Methodist churches were clearing debris by nightfall.

The church is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

“We will rebuild,” Mr. Whitt said.

Not far away, Dale Hennington was shopping for auto parts at High Standard Manufacturing Machine Shop on South Handley Drive when he and other customers noticed the high winds outside. Then the winds blew open the store doors.

“I tried to shut the door, but I couldn’t,” he said.

The wind blew items from the shelves, he said.

“I ducked under a table, and the roof just came off,” Mr. Hennington said.

Roofs or parts of roofs blew off or caved in at businesses on South Handley. At Harrison Carpets, a tree fell into the roof, leaving huge rolls of carpet strewn outside the building.

Mike Harrison, co-owner of the business, said he and his employees were not there when the twister hit.

“Fortunately, we were all gone,” he said as he stood outside the business late Tuesday, looking at the damaged roof. “This is pretty much a total loss. We’re kind of in shock.”

The Red Cross opened a shelter at the Handley-Meadowbrook Community Center, 6201 Beaty St. By 10 p.m., about half a dozen people had visited the shelter, mostly to get food. Nurses were on hand to deal with any prescriptions lost in the storm, and mental-health counselors were available.

“We’ll have a better damage assessment at sunrise, and tomorrow, we’ll start working with them on long-term plans,” said Anita Foster, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County chapter of the American Red Cross.

Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Ralph McCloud, who visited the shelter Tuesday night, said, “It seems to have impacted a lot of private homes and small businesses, but there doesn’t appear to be any loss of life and we’re grateful for that.”

A tornado was also reported at the Bonaventure Mobile Home Park on Forest Hill Drive. About 20 mobile homes were damaged, Fort Worth police said, with no injuries reported.

The storm was at least partly to blame for a 53-vehicle pileup about 6 p.m. on Interstate 30. Four people went to area hospitals with minor back and neck injuries after a tractor-trailer lost control on the slick pavement, slammed into the guardrail and ricocheted across several lanes, police said.

The highway remained closed for hours because the truck, which crashed between the Bryant-Irvin and Green Oaks exits, spilled fuel on the roadway.

“I’m banged up a little bit, but mostly it’s my pride,” said the truck’s driver, Doug Manning.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said they plan a ground survey of the area.

“We are not sure if that is the same tornado or a different tornado that created constant damage across southeast Fort Worth,” meteorologist Gary Woodall said.

TXU reported only scattered power outages, with the largest group of 2,000 customers in southwestern Fort Worth. A spokeswoman for SBC/Southwestern Bell reported no major trouble spots.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Love Field closed down during the storm. The FAA evacuated two of its air traffic control towers at D/FW, and delayed and canceled flights left hundreds stranded in the terminals. Passengers were shepherded into stairwells to get them away from windows. Love Field officials moved about 200 people into a basement. Both airports reopened soon after the storm passed.

D/FW reported 1.71 inches of rain, with 1.65 of that amount falling between 6 and 7 p.m., the National Weather Service said.

Waylon Hawkins, who lives on Haynie Street, not far north of Ramey, was in his home with three children when he said a tornado touched down in his back yard.

“I had my three kids in the hallway. I was watching out front and it was circling,” he said. “It sounded like a train coming.”

It wasn’t the first time the family huddled through a storm.

“I had all my kids in the same spot at the same time last time” during the March 2000 tornado, he said.

This time, their home sustained several thousand dollars in damage.

Dena McDonald was in her house on Ramey when she heard tornado sirens, she said.

“Something just told me to get out,” she said.

Ms. McDonald ran to a neighbor’s house, shut herself in a bathroom and started praying. The twister ripped half the roof off her home. She was uninjured.

Willie Williams was “hiding in the living room behind the couch” with his brother and two neighbors. The tornado ripped his fence and blew out windows in his house. From his safe spot, he could see the winds lift his van off the ground. It landed in his driveway.

“This is the first tornado that I have seen, and hopefully the last,” he said.

Staff writers Joshua Benton, Tiara M. Ellis, Holly Warren, Jason
Trahan, Staishy Bostick Siem, Michael A. Lindenberger, Herb Booth,
Jaime Jordan, Debra Dennis and Jennifer Packer contributed to this