Tornadoes spawned by Hermine remnants hit Dallas; driver injured when rig blown into building

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rig slams into building as tornadoes hit Dallas

DALLAS — A series of weak tornadoes spawned by the remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine are menacing the Dallas area, injuring at least one person.

Authorities say a truck driver was injured Wednesday evening when a twister slammed his rig into a brick paint warehouse near Dallas Love Field, causing the building to topple onto the cab. The driver was taken to a hospital.

It was one of several tornadoes that touched down.

Part of a warehouse roof near the rig accident also collapsed. No other damage or injuries were reported.

Another tornado skipped across a mostly rural area from near the town of Ferris, about 15 miles south of Dallas, to near Seagoville, about 20 miles southeast of Dallas.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine swept northward through Texas and into Oklahoma on Wednesday, forcing dozens of high-water rescues, swamping city neighborhoods and killing at least two people.

Hermine packed a relatively light punch when it made landfall Monday night, and many residents said they felt unprepared for Wednesday’s sudden flooding.

Dallas commuters endured snarled morning rush hour traffic, and the city did shut down one major thoroughfare because of flooding. A series of tornadoes threatened the city Wednesday evening, but there were no immediate reports of damage and city officials were breathing easier because the Dallas was apparently spared the storm’s worst.

Arlington, a suburb 22 miles west, wasn’t so lucky.

George Lowe, a 67-year-old retiree, said he and his wife, Laura, were surprised by how quickly and badly their neighborhood flooded. Water reached up to 5 feet high in some homes — many just a single story — laying waste to belongings. Quilts and artwork hung dripping and ruined on walls, and couches and furniture lay overturned on sodden, muddy floors.

“Did you ever see a refrigerator floating around your kitchen before?” Lowe asked.

He said he and his wife were surprised by the flooding because the weather forecast made it seem the worst of the storm would pass to the west.

“The carpet was going up and down like a bouncy house,” said Laura Lowe, 65.

Flash flooding further south endangered motorists, killing at least two.

Near Alvarado, 20 miles south of Arlington, fifteen rescuers tried to save a 49-year-old man who apparently drove his pickup truck into a low-water crossing. One rescuer got to within 50 feet of the man but couldn’t proceed further because it was too dangerous, Alvarado fire Chief Richard Van Winkle said. The man’s body was found hours later after the waters receded.

“This will weigh on us for a long time,” Van Winkle said. “We’re here to help, and when we can’t do that, it’s bad.”

In Johnson County, where Alvarado is located, the sheriff’s department took about 60 calls for high-water rescues, Capt. Mike Gilbert said.

Van Winkle said his department evacuated more than a dozen people from flooded homes. “This is about as bad as I’ve seen it, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” he said.

Another person in Texas died in a vehicle submerged by water from a swollen creek in Killeen, north of Austin, the National Weather Service said. Authorities in Austin suspended their search Wednesday for a woman whose black Lexus SUV was swept off the road by swollen Bull Creek, and planned to resume searching Thursday.

Austin Fire Department Battalion Chief Thayer Smith said emergency responders there had performed at least 11 swift water rescues since late Tuesday afternoon.

Williamson County sheriff’s Sgt. John Foster said at one point there were five helicopters pulling people from the floodwaters. He said he lost count at 40 rescues.

“We were plucking people off of roofs, trees. It was a major, major ordeal,” Foster said. “I can’t believe we don’t have a fatality. We’re just very, very fortunate.”

In Arlington, firefighters used trucks, ladders and boats to evacuate residents from the roof of an apartment complex that that backed up to a swollen creek. The sudden deluge sent at least one vehicle floating across the complex’s parking lot.

Arlington police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said fire officials rescued about 30 people from the complex by ladder and another 10 by boat. More than 50 others were escorted out of the area on foot. She said the water was as high as 8 feet in some of the units.

In a neighborhood nearby, firefighters asked homeowners if anyone had been swept away by the creek’s fast-moving waters, which turned an open field of wild grass and flower into a temporary lake. The waters carried away trampolines and storage sheds, knocked down fences and retaining walls and uprooted trees, which could be heard cracking in the nearby woods.

Bewildered residents surprised by the extent of the flooding waded through waist-deep water in the streets. Coffee-colored floodwaters rushed past roller coaster tracks at a Six Flags amusement park.

In Georgetown, just north of Austin, a subdivision and a mobile home park near Lake Granger had severe flooding, with several trailers being washed away. The Texas Parks and Wildlife said all residents there had been accounted for.

By mid-afternoon, the rain in Arlington had ceased, the waters had receded and the sun was shining. But the storm was just reaching southern Oklahoma, where strong winds toppled several outbuildings and forced the closure of a highway.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for many parts of Oklahoma, and the entire state was under a flash flood watch.

Police in Durant, 120 miles south of Oklahoma City, said strong winds helped topple a tractor-trailer along a highway near Colbert. The driver was transported to a hospital with injuries, and the highway was closed Wednesday afternoon after the winds, which may have been a tornado, moved through.

A Durant dispatcher said two homes were damaged, and the Bryan County Emergency Management Department said some outbuildings had been blown over.

The weather service said the leading edge of Hermine’s remnants had moved into Love, Carter and Marshall counties.

Although many residents were surprised by Wednesday’s flooding, it’s not unusual for a tropical storm to dump a lot of moisture even days after making landfall, said Jesse Moore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

The heaviest rains are usually east of the track of the tropical system. In Texas, that meant that 6 to 10 inches of rain moving up the Interstate 35 corridor from the Austin area to near the Oklahoma border on Wednesday.

“Up in this area, it went through some of the biggest populated areas that you could go through,” Moore said.

In Dallas, a series of tornadoes spawned by the remnants of Hermine touched down southeast, east and north of downtown Dallas, but there were no immediate reports of damage. Only single funnels were observed touching down at any one time in Dallas.

A tornado also skipped across a mostly rural area from near the town of Ferris, about 15 miles south of Dallas, to near Seagoville, about 20 miles southeast of Dallas.

Dallas may yet get flooding overnight along the Trinity River, said the city’s emergency management coordinator, Kenny Shaw. The river runs west and south of downtown and could become swollen with rain from upstream storms as Hermine moves north. Park and recreation centers are ready for use as shelters, with buses available if evacuations become necessary.

“The river is not anywhere near as bad as when it gets flowing real hard,” Shaw said. “We will be on the ready side of things, but I don’t think it will be as bad as they predicted.”

Hermine was the third tropical system this year to hit the Rio Grande Valley, which encompasses northeastern Mexico and southeastern Texas. The storm struck the flood-prone area just after the cleanup finished from Hurricane Alex at the start of the summer and an unnamed tropical depression in July. Only last week had Hidalgo County on the U.S.-Mexico border stowed its last water pump.

Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle, Terry Wallace, Danny Robbins and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas, and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, contributed to this report. Jay Root reported from Austin.

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