Cleburne mayor: Three EF-3 tornadoes damage or destroy 600 homes

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on May 16, 2013 at 5:17 AM

Updated Thursday, May 16 at 5:19 PM

CLEBURNE –– Survivors said they could feel the pressure change, their ears pop and walls begin to move in and out before they ever heard the tornado that touched down in the southwestern corner of the city.

"When my ears started popping, when I started feeling the pressure, I knew it was time to go ahead and get in the closet," said Roy Holland, a Cleburne resident.

During an afternoon news conference, Mayor Scott Cain said three tornadoes ripped off roofs from homes, overturned vehicles, sucked out metal garage doors, snapped trees and sent residents in the Winchester subdivision scrambling into interior bathrooms and closets at about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

On Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service said preliminary results show that the tornadoes were rated EF-3, which meant they brought winds between 136 to 165 miles per hour to this town roughly 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

"I was actually standing outside on my front porch and watched the tornado come across," said Robert Barnett, another resident. "I've seen tornadoes before, I've chased them, but I've never seen one like this. It freaked me out."

"Fortunately, we have not had any fatalities or serious injuries," said Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain.

He declared his city a disaster area just before the county judge did the same thing for Johnson County overnight which automatically begins requests for state and federal assistance.

In all, Mayor Cain said 600 homes suffered some kind of damage and at least two dozen were destroyed by the tornadoes. The widest funnel stretched a half of a mile. Paramedics transported nine people to the hospital with minor injuries, Cain said.

At sunrise, first responders will begin a house-to-house search in the hardest hit area to make sure no one is trapped or injured. Mayor Cain said City Hall suffered wind and water damage,  including some minor issues in the city council chambers, during the severe weather

Cleburne ISD canceled classes on Thursday as it assesses damage, too. Gerard Elementary and Smith Middle schools have missing roofs and water damage in some areas, Mayor Cain said. A dusk to dawn curfew will be in effect starting Thursday night. 

The mayor said Oncor hoped to restore power to affected homes by Friday. 

Darrin Vasquez lost part of the roof on the duplex his family rents on Hyde Park Blvd. near Country Club Rd.

"I didn't think it hit so I went back outside and saw stuff flying by and said 'It's here! Let's go!'" Vasquez recollected.

He dragged a queen-sized mattress into an interior bathroom where Vasquez, his son and 18-month-old grandson all sheltered.

"It was just very loud and very violent," Vasquez added.

Nadine Jones, 77, lived on Nolan River and said she knew she was in mortal danger. Bill Jones, her husband of 57 years held onto her in the hallway as the roof collapsed and windows exploded into flying knives. 

"It blew me down, I thought I was going to die," she said. "We prayed, we prayed for the babies next door." 

With a hole ripped open in his roof, rain poured into his attic causing the ceiling collapse inside his home. Trees block streets, shingles and roof decking litter them as well. A dishwasher sat on a sidewalk along Hyde Park Blvd near Murry Dr. A few blocks south a doghouse had been blown into a fence.

News 8 counted roofs gone on at least a dozen houses overnight. As the sun rises, the damage will become clearer.

One vehicle sits overturned next to a house.

At midnight, sounds of chainsaws were heard as lightning flashed and thunder still rumbled. The city began moving debris out of the way to allow access through the hardest hit streets.

Mayor Cain said police will be checking IDs in the hardest hit areas and only allow in residents on Thursday rather than sightseers.

E-mail: jwhitely@wfaa.com

News 8's Jim Douglas and Janet St. James contributed to this report

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