VAN, TX – The lawn of what used to be the Van, Texas, intermediate school is scattered with shards of glass and long, twisted strips of metal and plastic. The building’s windows are blown out, and debris hangs choked on the windowsills.
The roof has been severed from the walls, evidence of the tornado that tore through Van late Sunday. Two people — an adult man and woman related to one another — have been confirmed dead as a result of the storm, Van Zandt County Fire Marshal Chuck Allen said Monday.
It looks like seeing your entire childhood destroyed, residents told CNN.
In all, at least five people are dead, dozens injured, and three remain unaccounted for after severe storms tore across the middle of the United States over the weekend. More than 70 tornadoes were reported in the Midwest and Plains states.
Fire Marshal Allen said Monday that crews were focusing search efforts near where the missing were last seen.
Warning sirens began to wail around 8:45 p.m. Sunday, minutes before the apparent tornado struck Van. A National Weather Service tornado warning was in effect for the area. Allen said emergency responders took 47 people to area hospitals, and many more were taken by private vehicle.
Approximately 30% of the town suffered damage, Allen estimated.
The National Weather Service rated the tornado as an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which means top winds between 135 mph and 150 mph.
Van’s website says the town covers some 3 square miles and is home to more than 2,300 people. Approximately 53,000 people live in Van Zandt County, east of Dallas.
Allen said between 50 and 100 homes were damaged. The elementary school and intermediate school had “significant damage.”
“Every bit of that can be replaced,” Van Independent School District Superintendent Don Dunn said. “We feel very blessed that this did not happen during a school day.”
Van’s schools were closed Monday because of the storm damage, the district Facebook page said, and will be closed again Tuesday.
Emergency workers use ATVs to rescue walking wounded
Aerial footage from CNN affiliate KTVT over Van showed roofless homes, mud-covered streets and downed trees across residential areas. People walked around, surveying the damage clearing mounds of debris from their yards and roads.
“It’s just something that you never expect,” Mayor Dean Stone said Monday.
Some homes appeared to have been ripped from their foundations, or flattened, with only wooden beams jutting skyward.
“Damages range from completely destroyed homes, damaged homes, to trees and power lines down,” Allen said. “The initial response of emergency responders was to locate and identify any injured individuals.”
The Van city Facebook page directs anyone looking to donate items to the Red Cross or help with cleanup to report to a command center at the fire department.
The Red Cross is helping emergency officials and has set up a shelter and triage area at the First Baptist Church. Teams on foot and on ATVs were rescuing the walking wounded.
The Van Fire Department said on its Facebook page that a second storm cell struck around 10:30 p.m., and sirens sounded again to warn emergency officials in the field to take cover. The department said the area was not safe and urged people to stay away and off the roads.
Widespread storms wreak havoc
Fierce storms battered the center of the United States all weekend, causing damage from South Dakota and Iowa down to Texas.
Two people were killed when a storm hit a trailer park in Nashville, Arkansas, Howard County Emergency Management coordinator Sonny Raulerson said Monday.
The pair was identified as Melissa and Michael Mooneyhan, according to the Howard County Coroner John Gray.
A young child identified as their daughter was found alive near their bodies. She was taken to a local hospital but did not appear to have any serious injuries. A tornado warning had been in effect in the area.
Heavy rain hit large swaths of Texas and the Southern Plains. Flash flooding struck across parts of northern Texas, including the town of Krum. CNN affiliate WFAA reported that flood debris damaged a new bridge over Oliver Creek near Justin, Texas.
Widespread areas of Texas saw 2 to 4 inches of rain over the weekend. Eleven inches pummeled Navarro County, Texas, south of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Amy Johnson was driving from Georgia to Dallas when the storm hit. She and her boyfriend were forced to take shelter in a walk-in freezer at a fast food restaurant.
“Everyone was crammed in there,” she told CNN.
People sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to quiet the children.
“We were doing everything we could to keep everyone calm, and by the end we smelled like onions,” said Johnson.
Roof ripped off high school in Iowa
Early Sunday, a tornado struck the small South Dakota town of Delmont.
Approximately 20 buildings were damaged, and residents were being asked to leave because of unsecured propane tanks, said Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Kristi Turman. There were no serious injuries from the storm, she said, but Delmont had no power, no water and no telephone service.
A powerful storm also swept through Lake City, Iowa, ripping most of the roof off a local high school, said Mayor Gary Fahan. The people who had been inside the school for an awards ceremony left the building when they heard tornado sirens, he said, adding that there were no injuries.
On Saturday, a tornado that struck Eastland County, Texas, west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, killed one person and injured another critically, the local fire department said.