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It News 2015

Nine tornadoes confirmed; storms leave 11 dead

An aerial image taken Sunday, December 27, 2015 shows the path of a tornado in Rowlett, Texas. Violent storms ripped through the North Texas area late Saturday, spawning tornados that killed 11 people. (G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News)Related

Updated at 8 p.m. Sunday: Revised throughout the day to reflect the latest information.

Hundreds huddled in shelters Sunday while trying to add up the damage to their homes, churches and schools caused by deadly storms that blew through North Texas.

Eleven people, including an infant, were killed in Dallas and Collin counties, and as many as 11 tornadoes were reported to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service confirmed nine tornadoes Sunday night and said that number could rise in the coming days as more areas are surveyed.

A tornado that blew through Garland, Rowlett and Sunnyvale killing eight people Saturday night has been classified as an EF4, with winds up to 180 mph, according to the Weather Service. And a tornado that killed two people in Copeville has been classified as an EF2 with winds reaching 125 mph.

The tornadoes started as far south as Hillsboro and moved north toward Blue Ridge and northeast to Sulphur Springs.

“I don’t know if it was one tornado or several, ” said meteorologist Matt Bishop. “We’re trying to figure it all out.”

Residents and rescue workers continued to work frantically Sunday morning, battling early heavy rain and the forecast of more downpours in the afternoon. By Sunday night, forecasters are predicting a rain and snow mix over the same neighborhoods.

About 8, 000 power outages were reported Sunday, mostly in Rowlett, down from 50, 000 at the height of the storm.

“This is catastrophic, ” said Rowlett city manager Brian Funderburk. “We are going to have many people displaced for months.”

Click to enlarge for a better look at the path and impact of the tornado that killed eight in GarlandEarly estimates suggested as many as 1, 000 homes and buildings were damaged across Ellis, Dallas and Collin counties.

Gov. Greg Abbott asked Sunday afternoon that Texans remain vigilant, heed authorities instructions and stay off the roads. He said there is no official count of the number of storm fatalities statewide.

“I want to emphasize the compassion, support and prayers that I and the first lady off to those … who have lost a family member, ” Abbott said.

Garland devastation

Authorities were still sorting through wreckage Sunday near Interstate 30 and the George Bush Turnpike. Police said the eight people killed in Garland all died in tornado-related traffic accidents Saturday. A twister ripped through Garland around 6:45 p.m., sending a dozen or so vehicles into the air, said police spokesman Lt. Pedro Barineau.

Meteorologists confirmed the EF4 classified tornado brought up to 180 mph winds to Garland. The tornado traveled 13 miles from Sunnyvale northeast to Rowlett.

Some of the bodies were recovered in the crashed cars and trucks; some were thrown from the scene.

“So many families have been impacted by this, ” said Barineau. “Such a devastating thing.”

The Dallas County medical examiner is working to identify the eight dead and notify their families.

Garland police said 15 people were transported by ambulance to local hospitals with various injuries, but none appeared to be life-threatening.

Some Garland residents who had to evacuate their homes took refuge at gas stations near the corner of I-30 and Bobtown.

At Homeboys Shell gas station, people charged their phones, filled up on coffee, bought Subway sandwiches and traded stories with each other. Some showed photos on their cell phones of the damage. They exchanged tips on how to avoid the police roadblocks. One man covered his face with his hands and cried.

Red Cross volunteers loaded cots and blankets into a gymnasium at the Gale Fields Recreation Center, 1701 Dairy Road in Garland. Volunteers lugged in trash bags full of canned food, blankets and clothes. Donated children’s toys and stuffed animals lined a wall.

About 41 people are staying at the shelter, said Sharon Sanders, a supervisor with the Red Cross.

John Adams, 39, sat next to a wall under some blankets. Breathing tubes ran from his nose to an oxygen machine beside him. He and his wife, Qiana Adams, 35, sought refuge at the shelter after they lost power in their Garland apartment. The tornado passed close by their apartment, but they somehow were spared.

“I thought we were about to die, ” Qiana said. “We’re just thankful to be alive.”

Lanita Meadows, 39, and her husband were staying at the shelter until they could return to their Garland house, which wasn’t damaged but lost power. She said she was used to helping others after serving eight years in the military.

“Usually I’m on the volunteer side, ” she said. “But now, I’m helpless.”

The volunteers said they were moved to act after seeing the devastation that they so narrowly missed.

“That could’ve easily been us, ” said Brandy Madden, who lives near I-30 and George Bush Turnpike.

Her mother, Sheila Madden, cried after seeing the displaced families with nothing.

“You hear these things on TV, but when you’re seeing it for real and seeing the people with pajama clothes on … it’s heartbreaking, ” she said. “People don’t realize how little they have.”

About 600 buildings in Garland were damaged, many of them completely leveled. Those include businesses and multi-family residences, but the majority were single-family homes.

“It is total devastation, ” Barineau said.

Collins Road at Barnes Bridge Road was closed Sunday morning because of storm damage and flooding. Several neighborhood residents were there at 8 a.m. to try to get back into their homes, but police were not letting anyone through.

Police are still searching the damaged homes Sunday, looking for anyone who may be trapped. As of 7:20 a.m., Barineau said, police haven’t received reports of any missing people.

It’s a difficult time to be struck by such a horrible storm, ” Barineau said. “The day after Christmas it is horrible.”

3 killed in Collin County

Attendance at Sunday school class was sparse at the First Baptist Church of Copeville on Sunday morning.

Two people died in the town Saturday night, and an infant was killed in nearby Blue Ridge, county officials said. The National Weather Service classified the Blue Ridge tornado as an EF0.

The five adults sat around a meeting table and prayed for those who had lost their lives and those who had lost their homes.

“When our faith is tested, that’s when we’re supposed to be doing our best, ” said Pastor Stan Welch.

The members said the unincorporated town was small but close-knit.

“It is the most loving, down to earth people, ” Welch said. “There’s not a lot of shine here, just a lot of good hearts.”

Klarissa Warner, a stay-at-home mom who lives near Copeville, said she wasn’t hit by the storms. But she and her husband ran out to the neighborhoods and passed out hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue to hungry workers and homeowners.

AManda Williams' house in Copeville was torn apart by the  Dec. 26 tornado. (Valerie Wigglesworth/Dallas Morning News) Cars are thrown on top of each other after a tornado went through in east Garland early Saturday evening December 26, 2015. The neighborhood is of High Street off of Bobtown Road. (Ron Baselice/The Dallas Morning News)
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