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Texas twister hits those getting on their feet; 6 killed

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 9:09 p.m.
 

GRANBURY, Texas — Habitat for Humanity spent years in a North Texas subdivision, helping build many of the 110 homes in the low-income area. But its work was largely undone during an outbreak of 13 tornadoes on Wednesday night that killed six people and injured dozens.

On Thursday, authorities combed through debris in Granbury, 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.

Granbury, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, bore the brunt of the damage. The National Weather Service's preliminary estimate was that tornado had wind speeds between 166 mph and 200 mph. Other tornadoes spawned from the violent spring storm damaged nearby Cleburne and Millsap.

“I tell you, it has just broken my heart,” said Habitat for Humanity volunteer Elsie Tallant, who helped serve lunch every weekend to those building the homes in a Granbury neighborhood and those poised to become homeowners.

Hood County Commissioner Steve Berry said Thursday he couldn't tell one street from another in Granbury's 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 homes in the Rancho Brazos Estates, 61 of them were built by Habitat for Humanity, according to Gage Yeager, executive director of Trinity Habitat for Humanity in Fort Worth. He said most of those homes were damaged, including at least a dozen that were destroyed.

Raul Rodriguez was among the lucky ones: His Habitat for Humanity home was still standing. The 42-year-old mechanic rode the storm out in a closet with his wife and three children as he heard the windows shattering outside, but realized their fortune when they emerged to see a heartbreaking scene.

“Injured people, bloody people, started coming to our house, asking us to call 911,” said Rodriguez, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than two years. He assessed his own home, finding only shattered windows, lost roof shingles and a collapsed garage.

“My neighbors to the right, they lost everything,” he said.

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Bill Jackson said the homes, built primarily for low-income people, were insured and can be rebuilt. But that doesn't alleviate Tallant's pain. 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,” she said.

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 were 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.”

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