North Texans Ramp Up Cleanup and Recovery Efforts After Tornado Outbreak

Survey teams with the National Weather Service on Tuesday will examine damage in northern Ellis County and Garland, among other cities

Recovery and cleanup efforts continued Tuesday as thousands remained without electricity, schools were shuttered and roads were blocked by debris left by Sunday night's tornado outbreak.

Stella Ballard
An NBC 5 viewer emailed iSee@nbcdfw.com a picture taken from a plane showing the damage path left by an EF-3 tornado in North Dallas.

The National Weather Service has, so far, confirmed nine tornadoes to have touched down in North Texas on Sunday including an EF-3 that ripped through North Dallas with maximum wind speeds of 140 mph, an EF-2 that hit the southwestern side of Garland, an EF-1 confirmed Tuesday in Rockwall, an EF-1 confirmed Monday in Rowlett, an EF-1 confirmed Tuesday in Midlothian, an EF-1 confirmed Tuesday in Kaufman County, an EF-0 confirmed Tuesday in Kaufman County, an EF-0 confirmed Tuesday in Ferris and and EF-0 confirmed Monday in Wills Point.

NWS survey crews continue to evaluate damage at other locations to see if tornadic activity can be confirmed there, as well.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration Monday for 16 counties, making state resources available and waiving certain regulations to allow for utility companies to restore utilities. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins also issued a local declaration of disaster.

More than 30,000 people across North Texas spent Monday night in the dark, still powerless from Sunday's storms which spawned at least three confirmed tornadoes and left large swaths of destruction.

Early Tuesday morning before the sun came up, Richardson police were keeping an eye on evacuated neighborhoods from the ground and the air.

In the Richland Park neighborhood, officers periodically flew drones equipped with thermal imaging. The drones can detect heat in the dark, which lets police know if someone is in the area. Officers were keeping an eye out for residents trying to return to areas that aren't yet declared safe and looters trying to take advantage of storm victims.

The twisters tossed trees into homes, tore off storefronts and downed power lines, but killed no one in densely populated North Dallas, leaving Mayor Eric Johnson to declare the city "very fortunate" to be assessing only property damage.

Alonza Peavy said his car's glass began to shake before shattering as a tornado roared across the interstate in front of him. "I really thought our car was going to get taken away by the storm," said Peavy, who jumped into the backseat and laid on top of his 2-year-old son until the storm passed.

"Anytime you have a tornado in a major metropolitan area, the potential for large loss of life is always there," said Patrick Marsh, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. "We were very fortunate that the tornado did not hit the Dallas Cowboys' stadium or the state fair, where you would have had a lot of people that were exposed."

The tornado crossed over two major interstates. "If that happened at rush hour, I think we'd be talking about a different story," he said.

Early Monday morning in the Collin County city of Farmersville, three people were hospitalized with injuries not considered life-threatening after strong winds threw a mobile home into the air and onto County Road 697.

The late-night storms spawned tornadoes in several states, killing at least four people in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

In one Dallas neighborhood, Dustin and Lauren Collins said they felt lucky as they cleared debris from the yard of their largely intact home.

"When other people's homes are in your front yard, you just realize -- just the magnitude of the storm," said Lauren Collins, 36.

Dustin Collins, 37, said he gathered his family together after receiving the tornado alert. They climbed into the bathtub and pulled a mattress over top, huddling there with their 8-month-old son.

"We just sat in the bathtub and sang songs, trying to keep everyone calm," Lauren Collins said.

At a nearby shopping center, the fronts and roofs of stores were ripped away. Ruptured pipes were still spewing water Monday morning, drenching the piles of mangled drywall, insulation and steel framing inside the brick building.

Nearby, Georges Benamou said he was in his bedroom when a tree branch fell through the flat roof of his single-story home and into the living room.

"I heard some crack, crack, crack, and then I heard some trees falling on top of the roof," he said.

Brent Huddleston, 43, said he sheltered with his children, ages 9 and 11, in a closet as the house shook around them. They later found parts of street and shopping center signs that had been blown into their yard.

"It hit really fast," he said.

Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said no firefighters were hurt when the storm made the roof of Station 41 collapse.

The tornado that caused widespread damage in North Dallas passed closed to the home of former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush but caused no damage. Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said in a statement that "the Bushes are safe and praying for their neighbors around DFW who weren't as fortunate."

Tornadoes are not common in October, and cities are rarely hit because they don't have a big footprint in the tornado belt, according to tornado scientist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

It's like "randomly throwing darts," Brooks said.

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