Deadly tornadoes hit Texas and Oklahoma, flatten buildings

Residents in northeastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma began assessing weather damage Saturday, working to recover and thankful to have survived after tornadoes tore through the region, killing at least two people, injuring others and leaving homes and buildings in ruins.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt went to the town of Idabel to see the damage. He said on social media that all the homes had been searched and a 90-year-old man was killed. Keli Cain, spokesperson for the state’s Department of Emergency Management, said the man’s body was found at his home in the Pickens area of McCurtain County, about 36 miles north of Idabel.

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

The small town of Idabel saw a church, medical center and a school torn apart.

“There’s a lot of damage” in the town of about 7,000, Cain said. “There are well over 100 homes and businesses damaged from minor damage to totally destroyed.”

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 qualifying for federal assistance and funding and clears the way for state agencies to make disaster-recovery related purchases without limits on bidding requirements.

The National Weather Service said tornadoes also were reported in Texas and Arkansas.

Morris County, Texas, Judge Doug Reeder said in a social media post that one person died as a result of a tornado in the far northeastern Texas County, offering no other details.

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

One community hit hard was Powderly, about 45 miles west of Idabel and about 120 miles northeast of Dallas. Both Powderly and Idabel are near the Texas-Oklahoma border.

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

“Within two minutes of getting them in the bathtub, we had to lay over the kids because everything started going crazy,” Villalpando said.

“I’ve never been so terrified,” she said. “I could hear glass breaking and things shattering around, but whenever I got out of the bathroom, my heart and my stomach sank because I have kids and it could have been much worse. … What if our bathroom had caved in just like everything else? We wouldn’t be here.”

Terimaine Davis and his son were huddled in the bathtub until just before the tornado barreled through Friday, reducing their home in Powderly to a roofless, sagging heap.

“We left like 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’s car seat leaned against a dented, grey Chevrolet sedan with several windows blown out. Around back, his wife, Lori Davis, handed Terimaine a basket of toiletries from inside the wreckage of their house.

The couple and the three kids who live with them did not have renter’s 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 family until they can find a place to live.

“The next few days look like rough times,” Terimaine Davis said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said damage assessments and recovery efforts are under way 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 hardworking state and local emergency management personnel for their swift response.”

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

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

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