Residents near Farm-to-Market 664 are spending the night at an elementary school after homes and trailers near Meghann Lane, Reese Court and Bob White Road were severely damaged by a tornado.
They'll begin picking up the pieces of what's left Sunday morning.
As of 10 p.m. Saturday, two people received injuries during the tornado and were transported to an area hospital for non-life threatening wounds, and 40-45 homes were damaged or destroyed, said Ellis County Judge Carol Bush as she held a press conference at the Red Oak ISD administration building. The tornado struck at 6:03 p.m., according to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.
“We are so incredibly fortunate that when you have an incident like this, your first thought is what is the damage going to be? And not in terms of property loss, but of people and their lives,” Bush said. “We have been blessed and we are so incredibly fortunate that we have not had any life-threatening injuries.”
Between 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Ellis County had two confirmed tornadoes touch down and seven tornado warnings. The warnings were part of a storm system that moved through North Texas, killing at least eight people, according to multiple Dallas-Fort Worth media outlets. Bush did not have a breakdown of exactly where all the damaged homes were located as of press time.
“It hopped from 1387 to some of the areas in Ovilla like Bob White Road and the Longbranch area,” Bush said.
Residents Stanley Sharp and Amanda Burns recounted the moment the tornado hit as they hid inside their trailer.
“We were just laying in bed, and then all of a sudden there was thunder and lightening,” Sharp said. “The next thing I knew, the tornado came through and we got over there in the floor and covered our heads. There wasn't any warning — I didn't hear anything.”
“Everything just started shaking, and the windows started shaking. So, we got down,” said Burns.
A neighbor, Henry Williams, ran over the the mobile home afterward and pulled Burns and Sharp out from under some wood, he said.
“I ripped the window off the side of it,” Williams said.
Earlier in the day, meteorologist Mark Fox, with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, said conditions were similar to that of a tornado outbreak on Dec. 26, 2006.
“It’s the same ingredients we typically get in April, May and June. It’s very warm and very moist combined with an upper level storm system,” he said.
As of press time, county officials did not know the size of the tornado, but Bush said wind gusts picked up at Midlothian's Mid-Way Regional Airport reached 105 mph. At least 11 tornados were reported across North Texas Saturday night, according to preliminary reports from the weather service.
More than 1,700 residents were also without power after power lines were snapped in half and laid across roadways, and Oncor representatives were on scene to restore power as quickly as possible, but downed power lines create a dangerous situation, Bush said.
“We do want to caution the public to please stay back, away from those lines as we try to get those up and cleared,” Bush said. “Commissioner (Kyle) Butler does have precinct crews out and they are trying to assist with barricading areas so the public is not putting themselves in the way of danger.”
The other tornado struck just outside Telico in Ellis County. No one was injured and there was minor property damage, Bush said. Until the sun rises, and power is restored to some areas, it's difficult to assess some of the damage, she said, adding surveys will continue as the community recovers.
As of 11:30 p.m., Red Oak police and Red Oak ISD officials were directing displaced families to Longbranch Elementary, located at 6631 FM 1387 in Midlothian, for the night. Those wanting to help are asked to stay away from the damaged areas, and no volunteers are needed at this time, Bush said.
However, the American Red Cross is on scene to help families and has set up a number to call for donations of food or supplies. The number is 1-800-733-2767. Those wanting to check on affected family members or friends can visit http://www.redcross.org/safeandwell .
“We live in an area that's tornado alley, and we all know that. So one of the things we try to do is plan for incidents just like this,” Bush said. “Stephanie Parker is the Emergency Management Coordinator for Ellis County, and several of the other cities have their emergency coordinators as well. They work together and go through exercises. We do have a radar system in Midlothian that helps us detect the tornadoes and severe weather prior to it hitting. I think that has gone a long way in assisting the public.”
For continuing coverage of the tornado damage in Ellis County, check back for more.
Daily Light photojournalist Scott Dorsett contributed to this report.