At least six people were killed and scores more injured when tornadoes ripped through a stretch of Texas near Dallas-Fort Worth after dark on Wednesday, destroying homes and uprooting trees, authorities said.
The twisters were the deadliest to hit the United States so far this year, and Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds said the toll could rise as rescue workers combed through houses, hampered by darkness that kept the full extent of the devastation hidden.
“At this point… I’ve got 14 people that are unaccounted for,” he told reporters.
At least three tornadoes were confirmed to have struck north-central Texas on Wednesday night. The worst damage was reported in Granbury, a town about 35 miles south west of Fort Worth.
All six of the people confirmed killed were found in Rancho Brazos, a neighbourhood of around 110 mostly single family homes on the fringe of Granbury that bore the brunt of the winds, Deeds said.
“I had three different storms that came through but this is the worst one,” he said.
“Power lines were down, homes were heavily damaged to destroyed and the roads were blocked with debris.” Bulldozers were brought in to clear roads and get the residents out.
Matt Zavadsky, a spokesman for MedStar Mobile Healthcare, an agency that provides ambulance service to the region, said about 100 people were injured in the Granbury twister.
There was no immediate estimate for the extent of property damage, but Sheriff’s Lieutenant Kathy Jividen said a number of homes were destroyed and trees downed.
Deeds said the houses and streets had been searched multiple times by early Thursday and the area would be secured.
“If you get caught out there you are going to go to jail,” he said. “In the morning when the sun comes out we’ll re-evaluate what’s going on out there and go from there.”
He said a “very big percentage” of the homes in Rancho Brazos were devastated. Many had been built in the last five years.
About 90 people were cleared from the area on buses to a local school and then to relocation centres.
In Granbury, Pastor Dean Porter of Lake Granbury Christian Temple told a Dallas/Fort Worth ABC affiliate that looking out the front porch of his church at the parking lot he began to see “what looked to be a circular formation” and he ran back inside.
“Apparently what had happened from that point was that the tornado had formed over us, touched down on the opposite end of our property where there was a horse stable and some other buildings that were demolished. Just past that point there was a gas plant, I think there was a pipeline that had broke,” Porter told the affiliate, WFAA.
“This particular night is not like anything that I’ve ever seen,” Porter told the station.
Properties were damaged but no one was injured in nearby Parker County, bordering Hood County, Parker County Judge Mark Riley said.
The U.S. tornado season typically starts in the Gulf Coast states in the late winter, and then moves north with the warming weather, peaking around May and trailing off by July.
The country has seen several deadly tornadoes in recent years.
In March 2012, at least 39 people were killed in a chain of tornadoes that cut a swath of destruction from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico. The following month, at least six people died when a twister ripped through an Oklahoma town during a weekend outbreak of dozens of twisters across the Great Plains.
In May 2011, a massive tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people and damaging or destroying 7,500 homes.