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Damaging tornadoes rip through Dallas-Fort Worth area

April 03, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Reporting from Houston — Tornadoes tore through the Dallas-Fort Worth area known as the Metroplex on Tuesday, and although no serious injuries had been reported by mid-afternoon, officials are seeing major damage in their wake. 

Lt. Darrel Whitfield of the Arlington Fire Department told The Times that a tornado struck at about 1:15 p.m. in Fort Worth and headed 15 miles east into neighboring Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers baseball team.

"We have heavy damage in south Arlington, no reports of injuries, several fires, lightning strikes," Whitfield said.

PHOTOS: Texas tornadoes

"We do see damage" to structures, he said, including "a combination of vehicles, tractor trailers, houses and a nursing home."

He said it was not clear yet whether the 142-bed nursing home had been evacuated or damaged. Staff at the nursing home reported that they had not evacuated but said they could not comment about circumstances there Tuesday.

As of 2 p.m. CDT, the tornado was still visible and it was not clear whether shelters had been established, Whitfield said.

"We believe it’s moving in a northerly direction and it’s pretty much out of Arlington," he said.

Marc Flake, a spokesman for Fort Worth's Tarrant County, told The Times that county officials were still taking a tally of the damage as local fire departments responded, but that no injuries had been reported.

Meanwhile, a second large tornado was moving through the area, according to Amber Elliott, a meteorologist who spoke with The Times from the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth, which posted maps tracking the tornadoes under a banner warning "Take cover now!"

Video showed both twisters to be well-formed "stovepipe" or "elephant trunk" tornadoes, she said.

In addition to the Arlington twister, another strong tornado surfaced in Hutchins, about 30 miles east, and headed northeast through the suburbs toward Garland, she said.

There were reports of more tornadoes surfacing along the same path as those two super-cells, Elliott said.

She said the twisters were likely to cause major damage as they ripped through highly populated suburban areas.

"The one that's going through downtown Arlington looks to be very dangerous," Elliott said. "It was definitely throwing heavy, large debris around. Looks like there's going to be extensive damage."

The Dallas Red Cross office attempted to warn local residents online.

"LARGE TORNADOES moving into Arlington and Hutchins," the organization tweeted. "If you are in the path of these storms, SEEK SHELTER NOW!"

On NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth and other area TV stations, the twisters could be seen ripping through the area, lifting and tossing tractor trailers.

"Images on Chopper 5 show semi trucks and other debris being tossed into the air in Dallas County," NBC 5 tweeted.

The weather service issued a tornado watch in the area Tuesday morning, but it was not clear how many residents heeded the advice or outdoor warning sirens.

"The sirens should be going off as soon as we issue the tornado warning, and people should be taking cover immediately," Elliott said. "Hopefully people have weather radios or they’re keeping an eye on the TV."

Flights have been grounded due to hail and lightning at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, but the facility was not closed, officials said.

Tornado warnings were in effect for Dallas and Tarrant counties until 4 p.m. CDT, officials said.

"As long as these tornadoes hold together, they will continue to tear through highly populated areas," Elliott said.

Although tornado activity is typical come spring in Texas, Elliott said Tuesday's twisters were unusually strong. However, she said, it will take until at least Wednesday for meteorologists to assess their strength.

"This is unusual for what we've seen in the past few years," she said.

Accuweather.com reported that the storm system generating the tornadoes is expected to move across the Southern Plains Tuesday afternoon and evening.

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