GRANBURY, Texas (AP) — Habitat for Humanity spent years in a North Texas suburb, helping build many of the 110 homes in the low-income area. But its work was largely undone during an outbreak of 10 tornadoes Wednesday night that killed six people and injured dozens.
On Thursday, authorities combed through debris in Granbury for another roughly half-dozen still missing, while residents awaited the chance to see what was left of their homes. Witnesses described the two badly hit neighborhoods as unrecognizable, with homes ripped from foundations and others merely rubble.
The National Weather Service's preliminary estimate was that the Granbury tornado had wind speeds between 166 mph and 200 mph. Other tornadoes spawned from the violent spring storm damaged nearby Cleburne and Millsap.
Granbury, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, bore the brunt of the damage.
Hood County Commissioner Steve Berry said Thursday he couldn't tell one street from another in the Rancho Brazos Estates neighborhood because of the destruction. Half of one home was torn away while the other half was still standing, glasses and vases intact on shelves. Trees and debris were scattered across yards, and fences were flattened. Sheet metal could be seen hanging from utility wires.
The weather service said the preliminary storm estimate for the Granbury tornado was an EF-4, based on the Fujita tornado damage scale. An EF-5 is the most severe.
Of the 110 homes there, 61 of them built over the years by Habitat for Humanity, according to Gage Yeager, executive director of Trinity Habitat for Humanity in Fort Worth. Yeager said Thursday afternoon that 14 of the Habitat homes were destroyed, 58 damaged and three appeared undamaged.
Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bill Jackson said the Habitat homes, built primarily for low-income people, were insured and can be rebuilt, he said.
But that doesn't alleviate the pain felt by fellow volunteer Elsie Tallant, who helped serve lunch every weekend to those building the homes and those who were going to move in.
"I tell you, it has just broken my heart," she said, noting she'd gotten to know the people who had waited for years to become homeowners. "We were going to dedicate a house this weekend, and her home was destroyed."
Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds said Thursday afternoon that two of the dead were women and four of them men; one man and one woman in their 80s.
"Some were found in houses. Some were found around houses," Deeds said. Six or seven people have not been accounted for, he said at a news conference.
"I'm very confident we'll find those people alive and well," Deeds said, adding 37 injured people were treated at hospitals. "We're going to keep looking. We're not going to give up until every piece of debris is turned over."
Harold Brooks, a meteorologist at the weather service's severe storm lab in Norman, Okla., said May 15 is the latest into the month that the U.S. has had to wait for its first significant tornadoes of the year. Brooks said he would expect 2013 to be one of the least lethal tornado years since the agency started keeping records in 1954.
Earlier Thursday, about 20,000 homes and businesses in the region were without power.
Another tornado cut a mile-wide path through Cleburne on Wednesday, storm spotters told the National Weather Service. The weather service said it was estimated as an EF-3, which has winds between 136 mph and 165 mph.
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said Thursday morning that no one was killed or seriously hurt in the courthouse city of about 30,000 that's some 25 miles southeast of Granbury. Nine people suffered minor injuries, and upward of 150 homes were damaged and another 50 were destroyed.
Cleburne resident Derrek Grisham was going through his mother's damaged home Thursday, salvaging items before the home is likely torn down.
Grisham, 26, said after the storm passed through, he ran to his mother's nearby home to check on her and his 10-year-old son, who was staying with her.
"I had to kick in the front door to get them out," he said, explaining the two had taken shelter in a bathtub.
The roof of the home was torn away and he said her belongings were a jumbled mass, but that Catholic crucifixes stayed in place on the living room wall.
Brown reported from Granbury, Texas, and Stengle from Granbury and Cleburne, Texas. Associated Press writers Diana Heidgerd and Terry Wallace in Dallas; AP videographer John Mone in Granbury; and freelance photographer Mike Fuentes contributed to this report.