Twelve tornadoes touched down in several small communities in Texas overnight, leaving at least six people dead, dozens injured and hundreds homeless. Emergency responders were still searching for missing people Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday, authorities combed through debris in Granbury, while residents awaited the chance to see what was left of their homes. Witnesses described two badly hit neighborhoods as unrecognizable, with homes ripped from foundations and others merely rubble.
Granbury, about 64 kilometres southwest of Fort Worth, bore the brunt of the damage. The National Weather Service gave a preliminary estimate of Wednesday night's violent system, saying a tornado in Granbury had wind speeds between 267 km/h and 320 km/h. Other tornadoes damaged nearby Cleburne and Millsap.
Granbury, southwest of Fort Worth, bore the brunt of the damage, as the exceptionally powerful tornado tore through two neighborhoods around 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Resident Elizabeth Tovar said fist-sized hail heralded the tornado's arrival and prompted her and her family to hide in their bathroom.
"We were all, like, hugging in the bathtub and that's when it started happening. I heard glass shattering and I knew my house was going," Tovar said, shaking her head. "We looked up and ... the whole ceiling was gone."
The weather service's preliminary storm estimate was an EF-4, based on the Fujita tornado damage scale. An EF-5 is the most severe.
Those who saw the destruction in the city's Rancho Brazos subdivision described it as unrecognizable.
County Commissioner Steve Berry said Thursday he couldn't tell one street from another — some homes were ripped from foundations, others reduced to rubble. Half of one home was torn away while the other half was still standing, glasses and vases intact on shelves. Trees and debris were scattered across yards, and fences were flattened.
Sheriff Roger Deeds described the overnight hunt for bodies in Granbury.
"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."
Seven people remain unaccounted and authorities hope they are with family or friends, Deeds said at a Thursday morning news conference. Emergency responders were working to identify the six adult bodies that had been found, he said.
He said 37 injured people were treated at hospitals.
Harold Brooks, a meteorologist at the weather service's severe storm lab in Norman, Oklahoma, said May 15 is the latest into the month that the U.S. has had to wait for its first significant tornadoes of the year.
Brooks said he would expect 2013 to be one of the least lethal tornado years since the agency started keeping records in 1954.
Utilities said about 20,000 homes and businesses in the region were without power early Thursday.
Another tornado cut a mile-wide path through Cleburne on Wednesday, storm spotters told the National Weather Service.
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said Thursday morning that no one was killed or seriously hurt in city of about 30,000 southeast of Granbury. Nine people suffered minor injuries, and upward of 150 homes were damaged and another 50 were destroyed.