Powerful storm system wallops Texas; tornado watch issued

Debris litters the ground surrounding homes, damaged by a tornado, on Oxford Drive and Stratford Drive in Round Rock, Texas Monday, March 21, 2022. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
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Associated Press/ Report for America

ELGIN, Texas (AP) — One person was killed and more than a dozen were injured when tornadoes tore through parts of Texas and Oklahoma, damaging a school, homes and businesses, officials said. The same storm system was poised to move into Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday, carrying the risk of dangerous tornadoes and powerful winds.

In Texas, several tornadoes were reported Monday along the Interstate 35 corridor, particularly in the Austin suburbs of Round Rock and Elgin, and close to Dallas-Fort Worth. Two unconfirmed tornadoes caused damage in the Lake Texoma area of northern Texas and southern Oklahoma.

In Elgin, broken trees lined the rural roads and pieces of metal — uprooted by strong winds hung from the branches. Residents stepped carefully to avoid downed power lines as they worked to clean the remnants of broken ceilings, torn down walls and damaged cars.

J.D. Harkins, 59, said he saw one tornado pass by his Elgin home, and that he hadn’t seen a twister of this magnitude in the town since 1980.

“There used to be a barn there,” Harkins said, pointing to an empty plot on his uncle’s property covered with scattered debris. He said the building was empty when the tornado hit, and that his family is thankful nobody was hurt.

“It was crystal clear, well defined,” Harkins said, adding that the tornado was swiftly followed by a second one. “And then one went up and another one came down.”

The tornadoes came on a wild weather day in Texas — wildfires burned in the west and a blizzard warning was issued for the Texas Panhandle, where up to 9 inches (23 centimeters) of snow fell.

More than a dozen injuries have been reported in Texas, including 10 in Grayson County, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Dallas, the county’s emergency management office said. A 73-year-old woman who lived in the community of Sherwood Shores died in the storm, but officials have not provided any details.

By Tuesday morning, the system was bringing heavy rainfall and thunderstorms to parts of Texas and Arkansas, said Jeremy Grams, lead forecaster with the Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Oklahoma. A tornado watch was in effect for parts of Texas and Louisiana.

In Louisiana, high water early Tuesday posed a threat to motorists on several roads, including a stretch of Interstate 20 and several state highways after rains overnight, authorities said. Deputies in Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, rescued three drivers from high waters during the night, the sheriff’s office tweeted before dawn.

The storms were expected to intensify throughout the day as temperatures rise, increasing the threat of tornadoes, hail and strong winds. Much of Louisiana and Mississippi were at a moderate risk of severe weather Tuesday, the second-highest risk category issued by the Storm Prediction Center. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Jackson, Mississippi, were among the cities at risk for bad weather Tuesday.

“We’re still a bit uncertain on just how intense and how longer-lived some of these tornadoes may be, so we’re going to be just below that threshold of the greatest risk,” Grams said Tuesday morning.

Forecasters were predicting intense tornadoes and widespread damaging winds, some hurricane-force with speeds of 75 mph (120 kph) or greater, in much of Mississippi, southern and eastern Louisiana, and western Alabama.

Louisiana’s federal and state authorities reminded thousands of hurricane survivors living in government-provided mobile homes and recreational vehicle trailers to have an evacuation plan because the structures might not withstand the expected weather. More than 8,000 households live in such temporary quarters, officials said.

The storm already left misery in its wake in Texas. Damage to homes and businesses occurred in at least a dozen Texas counties, according to reports submitted to the Storm Prediction Center.

Officials reported damage throughout Jacksboro, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Fort Worth. There, photographs posted on social media showed a storm ripped the wall and roof from parts of Jacksboro High School, especially its gym.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” school principal Starla Sanders told WFAA-TV in Dallas.

Thirty miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Jacksboro, near Bowie, the damage was widespread. Four people suffered minor injuries, said Emergency Manager Kelly McNabb.