Twin weather terrors strike North Texas

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WFAA

Posted on September 8, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 8 at 11:27 PM

DALLAS — It was a terrifying image that hadn't been seen for years: A tornado on the ground in Dallas.

Thousands of North Texans watched in horror on TV and in person as multiple funnel clouds touched down in the region. Damage was reported in Ferris, Seagoville, Dallas, Highland Park and Lindsay in Cooke County.

No one was killed.

"I heard that train sound, the roar," said Robert Ortega, whose home in Seagoville was severely damaged. "I was running, hoping it wouldn't catch me, pick me up."

But before the twisters, buckets of rain drenched the area.

"It was up to here, my knees, I guess, in the house," said Lewisville flood victim Lori Deitchman.

Homes and cars were inundated, with drivers stranded and rescue crews scrambling to get people out of danger.

THE TORNADOES

The most significant tornado damage appears to have been in Dallas, where a funnel cloud that was on the ground for around 10 minutes hit hard at an industrial building near Mockingbird Lane and Irving Boulevard, northwest of downtown.

Blanca Guera saw the tornado coming and hid in her car.

"I'm so scared! I saw the debris," she said.

Her only cover was the wall of an industrial building. "I was looking for a place to hide, and that wall right there saved my life," Guera said.

Jimmy Jimenez captured the tornado on his camera phone. "I was like, 'Man!' I'd never seen it before, and I was surprised; I was really surprised," he said.

Cenelle McClelland said he saw the tornado touch down twice. "It came down so quick, like five seconds, and it went right back up, and then it turns down again like 10 seconds, like quick."

The funnel cloud left behind damaged buildings and vehicles.

An 18-wheeler was slammed into a building, causing it to collapse. The truck driver was hospitalized.

Nearby, another truck was toppled on its side.

The events left Blanca Guera in tears. "I was just screaming because I was so scared," she said.

Late Wednesday, emergency workers in Dallas were dealing with downed power lines and hazardous material cleanup in some of the industrial buildings.

Seagoville residents were still on edge after a twister tore through a residential neighborhood, heavily damaging a handful of homes and sparing most others.

Robert Ortega saw the ominous cloud dipping down from the skies turn into a tornado headed directly for his home.

"I just turned around and started running toward my house," he said. "My girlfriend was in the front door. I said, 'Run and get in the shower,' and then I ran and got in the shower and then I heard this loud noise."

The powerful storm peeled the roof from his garage, flattened a backyard gazebo and knocked down trees in a matter of seconds.

"Look at the damage," he said. "That tornado it was like it just pulled in the driveway and pulled in like I always do, but just got my garage."

The tornado left a path of destruction on both sides of Highway 175.

"I was kind of standing here watching it and you could just see it start to swirl," said Gary Denson. "It wasn't like I expected it to be, but it just came right over the top of here."

Denson took cover inside his used car shop. Then he started hearing debris pounding the walls.

"I've lived here all my life, and this is the first one I've seen," he said. "Not a good feeling at all."

It's a feeling that Robert Ortega and his mother, Lupe Ortega, will never forget.

"He was shaking and I was shaking because I was so thankful to God that he was all right," she said. "I just praise the Lord that everything is okay."

The American Red Cross was helping storm victims with clothing, shelter and other necessities.

A tornado watch remained in effect for Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding counties until 1 a.m. Thursday.

THE FLOODING

Earlier on Wednesday, it was flooding triggered by torrential rain that caused a series of problems in North Texas.

Near Alvarado, fifteen rescuers tried to save a 49-year-old man who apparently drove his pickup truck into a low-water crossing. One rescuer got to within 50 feet of the man but, couldn't proceed further because it was too dangerous, Alvarado fire Chief Richard Van Winkle said.

The man's body was found hours later after the waters receded.

"This will weigh on us for a long time," Van Winkle said. "We're here to help, and when we can't do that, it's bad."

In Arlington, several dozen people and their pets were rescued when the Willows at Shady Valley apartment complex was inundated by floodwaters that swiftly rose eight feet.

Firefighters used a ladder truck as a makeshift bridge to ferry 30 residents to safety over the swirling waters below.

Officials estimate that more than 100 Willows tenants were left homeless after the flooding caused severe damage to 14 buildings.

"I lost everything, including my bed," said Meredith Hallman. "It's just total disaster."

Her apartment was a mess Wednesday night when she was allowed to return. Her carpets were still muddy, her belongings ruined. She had time only to gather up her pets and get out on Wednesday morning.

"It's all gone," Hallman said, surveying the damage. "I worked hard for this. I've been almost crying all day."

Priscilla Baird had tried to flee the rising floodwaters in her minivan. "I tried to get out, but I was having a very hard time pushing the door open there was so much water, but I finally pushed it open. When I finally got out, the water was up to here on me," she said, indicating it was chest-high.

Baird — still clutching her handbag — was pulled out of the water by Arlington firefighters. "They threw me a rope, and I grabbed onto the rope, and they pulled me up the hill," she said.

It could be weeks before damage to the apartment complex is repaired.

Less than a mile away, floodwaters tore through the home of  Winnie McIver.

"When the kitchen door gave, it was like  a dam breaking," said Nasster Gittiban. "It was just gushing right in."

Gittiban sliced his finger trying to carry the 91-year-old McIver out of her house as the waters rose four feet.

George Lowe said he and his wife, Laura, were surprised by how quickly and badly their Arlington neighborhood flooded. Water reached up to five feet high in some homes — many just a single story — laying waste to belongings. Quilts and artwork hung dripping and ruined on walls, and couches and furniture lay overturned on sodden, muddy floors.

"Did you ever see a refrigerator floating around your kitchen before?" Lowe asked.

The City of Arlington and the American Red Cross set up shelters for storm victims.

Rainfall totals ranged from 5.97 inches in Frisco to 7.06 inches in Dallas; 7.29 inches in Mesquite; 9 inches in Alvarado; and 11.17 inches in Dalworthington Gardens.

The Trinity River is expected to crest between 42 and 43 feet in Dallas Thursday morning; flood stage is 30 feet.

The City of Dallas has issued warnings to residents in flood-prone areas like Cadillac Heights.

WFAA reporters Rebecca Lopez and Gary Reaves in Dallas, Monika Diaz in Seagoville and Craig Civale in Arlington; and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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