ARLINGTON, Texas – The tornado hurtled toward the nursing home. Physical therapist Patti Gilroy said she saw the swirling mass barreling down through the back door, after herding patients into the hallway in the order trained: walkers, wheelchairs, then beds.
“It wasn’t like a freight train like everybody says it is,” said Gilroy, who rounded up dozens to safety at Green Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. “It sounded like a bomb hit. And we hit the floor, and everybody was praying. It was shocking.”
A destructive reminder of a young tornado season Wednesday left thousands without power and hundreds of homes pummeled or worse Wednesday, after the National Weather Service said as many as a dozen twisters touched down in a wrecking-ball swath of violent weather that stretched across Dallas and Fort Worth. Despite the intensity of the slow-moving storms, as of late Tuesday no fatalities or serious injuries had been reported, though there were several less serious injuries.
The exact number of tornadoes Tuesday wasn’t expected to be known until surveyors fanned across North Texas, looking for clues among the debris that blanketed yards and rooftops peeled off slats.
The Red Cross put a preliminary estimate of damaged homes at 650. In the southern Dallas suburb of Lancaster, where damage was especially widespread, around 150 people remained in a shelter Tuesday night.
“I guess `shock’ is probably a good word,” Lancaster Mayor Marcus Knight said.
Tornadoes raked the region just as the usual peak of the tornado season is kicking off. April is typically the worst in a season that stretches from March to June, said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Bishop. He added that Tuesday’s outburst suggest that “we’re on pace to be above normal.”
An entire wing at the Green Oaks nursing home in Arlington crumbled. Stunning video from Dallas showed big-rig trailers tossed into the air and spiraling like footballs. At the Cedar Valley Christian Center church in Lancaster, Pastor Glenn Young said he cowered in a windowless room with 30 children from a daycare program, some of them newborns.
Ten people in Lancaster were injured, two of them severely, said Lancaster police officer Paul Beck. Three people were injured in Arlington, including two Green Oaks residents taken to a hospital with minor injuries, Arlington Assistant Fire Chief Jim Self said.
Gilroy said the blast of wind through Green Oaks lasted about 10 seconds. She described one of her co-workers being nearly “sucked out” while trying to get a patient out of the room at the moment the facility was hit.
Joy Johnston was also there, visiting her 79-year-old sister.
“Of course the windows were flying out, and my sister is paralyzed, so I had to get someone to help me get her in a wheelchair to get her out of the room,” she said.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport canceled hundreds of flights and diverted others heading its way. In one industrial section of Dallas, rows of empty tractor-trailers crumpled like soda cans littered a parking lot.
“The officers were watching the tornadoes form and drop,” Kennedale police Chief Tommy Williams said. “It was pretty active for a while.”
About 12,600 homes in Arlington alone remained without power late Tuesday, said Tiara Ellis Richard, a police spokeswoman for the city.
Most of Dallas was spared the full wrath of the storm. Yet in Lancaster, television helicopters panned over exposed homes without roofs and flattened buildings. Residents could be seen walking down the street with firefighters and peering into homes, looking at the damage after the storm passed.
American Airlines canceled more than 450 arriving and departing flights at its DFW airport hub by late Tuesday afternoon, and 37 other incoming flights had been diverted to different airports.
DFW Airport spokesman David Magana said more than 110 planes were damaged by hail. It wasn’t clear how many belonged to American Airlines, but American and American Eagle had pulled 101 planes out of service for hail-damage inspections.
Flights also were canceled at Dallas Love Field, which is a big base for Southwest Airlines. That airline canceled more than 45 flights in and out of the airport by Tuesday evening.
Meteorologists said the storms were the result of a slow-moving storm system centered over northern New Mexico.
Merchant reported from Lancaster. Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant, Terry Wallace and David Koenig in Dallas, Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Angela K. Brown in Fort Worth contributed to this report.