Three Dead in North Texas Tornado

May 11, 2006

Late-night tornadoes swept through rural North Texas on May 9, killing three people, hospitalizing 10 and reducing homes to bare concrete slabs, officials said.

An elderly couple were found dead in a destroyed home in the tiny community of Westminster, about 45 miles northeast of Dallas, Collin County spokeswoman Leigh Hornsby said. A teenager was found dead in a neighboring county.

“It sounded like a regular thunderstorm, then it went crazy,” said Cathy Dotson, who huddled on the floor with her 13- and 10-year-old grandchildren when the tornado hit about 10:30 p.m. May 9. “I could actually feel my house move. I looked outside my window, and all I could see was gray.”

About a quarter-mile down the street from Dotson’s house, another couple left a sheet of paper held down by two rocks that read “Harry and Mary Donaho are fine” and gave their daughter’s phone number.

Jeri Tishmack, of nearby Van Alstyne, said she stayed on the phone with her parents throughout the storm as they crouched in the living room between a sofa and a small table. The storm ripped off the roof and chunks of wall.

“It sounded terrifying,” Tishmack said. “All I heard was a really high-pitched sound.”

Collin County Sheriff’s Lt. John Norton said seven injured people were taken to a McKinney hospital and three more were airlifted to a Dallas hospital. Dozens were treated for minor injuries at the scene.

Norton said the teen died nearby in Grayson County, but he had no further details.

Officials are going door-to-door to check for any other casualties, said Jamie Nicolay of the county’s homeland security and health care services department.

At least six homes were destroyed in Westminster. Hornsby said a tornado also hit near the town of Anna, a community of 6,500 residents a few miles west of Westminster. Police didn’t have information on damage in Anna early Wednesday.

“There were at least two” tornadoes, National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Moller said. “I think it was the first tornado that killed three people. Then there was a larger tornado after that that probably did extensive damage.”

He said the first twister developed just north of Anna and moved eastward; that storm than dissipated and the second tornado developed “somewhere in the vicinity of Westminster or just past there,” Moller said.

He said officials were surveying the area Wednesday to assess the size, intensity and damage by the tornadoes. But Moller estimated the storms could have been at least F2 or F3 category tornadoes, which are capable of producing winds up to 206 miles per hour. That’s strong enough to overturn trains and hurl cars through the air.

Storm sirens sounded twice in Anna, Hornsby said, but she added that she understood that sirens did not sound in Westminster.

The American Red Cross has opened a shelter in Anna at the local high school, Nicolay said. Emergency workers had set up a command post in Westminster to coordinate rescue and clean-up efforts. More than 100 rescue and utility workers were working to get power restored to about 300 houses that lost electricity.

Another tornado in the Texas Panhandle town of Childress knocked down a wall at the local high school, and broken power lines sparked treetop fires, officials said. Gas lines were broken and downed trees blocked roads, but there were no reports of injuries.

Associated Press Writers Matt Joyce and Sheila Flynn in Dallas contributed to this report.

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