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Search Ends for Tornado Victims; Death Toll Put at 27

May 30, 1997| From Associated Press

JARRELL, Texas — Authorities ended the search Thursday for 23 people who had been unaccounted for after a devastating tornado, concluding that those considered missing had turned up alive or were among the unidentified bodies.

Residents of this central Texas town returned to what's left of their homes, still grieving over the deaths of 27 neighbors but thankful that the toll wasn't higher.

Many victims remained unidentified because their body parts had been scattered by the storm, which the National Weather Service on Thursday upgraded to an F-5, the most severe classification.

"They believe the names and bodies will match up once they are identified," said Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Laureen Chernow.

The weather service said the twister churned at more than 260 mph as it ate up about 50 houses in a 5-mile-long, half-mile-wide swath. It was the state's worst tornado in a decade.

"Frame homes were completely swept away and then disintegrated, plumbing was pulled out of the ground and bark was stripped off trees. All of that indicates an F-5," said Roy Pringle, a weather service meteorologist in San Antonio.

Many in this community of about 1,000 located 40 miles north of Austin were furious that authorities kept them out of town for two days.

Several complained that authorities harassed and even threatened them with arrest when they tried returning earlier.

"We've had two days where we could've saved our furniture or something, but we've just been sitting here on our thumbs and waiting," said Danny Hammett, holding his young daughter, Bonitta.

Case workers from crisis centers around the state came to help, accompanying homeowners as they saw their property for the first time.

Many residents braced for the worst. Almost everyone either lost property or knew people who did. They had seen pictures of the destruction and heard the stories.

"I know what I'll find: nothing. It's all vacuumed up--gone," said Charlie Boren. "I'm going back to see where my truck went."

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