GRANBURY, Texas - Ten tornadoes touched down in several small communities in North Texas overnight, leaving at least six people dead, dozens injured and hundreds homeless. Emergency responders were still searching for missing people Thursday afternoon.
The National Weather Service gave a preliminary estimate of Wednesday night's violent system, saying a tornado in Granbury had wind speeds between 166 m.p.h. and 200 m.p.h. Other tornadoes damaged nearby Cleburne and Millsap.
Granbury, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, bore the brunt of the damage, as the exceptionally powerful tornado tore through two neighborhoods Wednesday evening.
Resident Elizabeth Tovar said fist-size hail heralded the tornado's arrival and prompted her and her family to hide in their bathroom.
"We were all, like, hugging in the bathtub and that's when it started happening. I heard glass shattering, and I knew my house was going," Tovar said, shaking her head. "We looked up and . . . the whole ceiling was gone."
The weather service's preliminary storm estimate was an EF-4, based on the Fujita tornado damage scale. An EF-5 is the most severe.
Those who saw the destruction in the city's Rancho Brazos subdivision, which has a significant number of Habitat for Humanity homes, described it as unrecognizable.
Hood County Commissioner Steve Berry said Thursday he couldn't tell one street from another - some homes were ripped from foundations, others reduced to rubble. 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.
Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds described the overnight hunt for bodies in Granbury.
"Some were found in houses. Some were found around houses," Deeds said. "There was a report that two of these people that they found were not even near their homes. So we're going to have to search the area out there."
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 United States 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.