Residents in southeastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas began assessing weather damage Saturday, working to recover and thankful to have survived after a storm that stretched from Dallas to northwestern Arkansas, produced tornadoes and caused flash floods, killing at least one, injuring others and leaving houses and buildings in ruins.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt went to the town of Idabel to inspect the damage. He said on social media that all the houses had been searched and a 90-year-old man killed. Keli Cain, spokesman for the state Emergencies Administration, said the man’s body was found at his home in the Pickens area of McCurtain County, about 36 miles north of Idabel.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol also reported that a 6-year-old girl drowned and a 43-year-old man went missing after their vehicle was washed by water from a bridge near Stilwell, about 137 miles north of Idabel. The drowning was not officially attributed to the storm and is being investigated by the coroner, Cain said.
On Saturday afternoon, Stitt declared a state of emergency for McCurtain County, where Idabel is located, and neighboring Bryan, Choctaw and LeFlore counties.
The statement is a step toward qualifying for federal assistance and funding and paves the way for state agencies to make disaster recovery-related purchases without constraints on bidding requirements.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said damage assessments and recovery efforts were underway in Northeast Texas and encouraged residents to report damage to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
“I have used all available resources to help respond and recover,” Abbott said in a statement. “Thank you to all of our hard-working state and local emergency management staff for their quick response.”
Tulsa National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Darby said the widespread storm brought about four inches of heavy rain in the Stilwell area at the time.
Idabel, a rural town of about 7,000 people in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, saw extensive damage, Cain said. “There are well over 100 homes and businesses that have suffered damage ranging from minor damage to total destruction,” Cain said.
According to Pastor Don Myer, Trinity Baptist Church in Idabel was preparing to complete a new building when the storm tore apart their sanctuary and flattened the shell of the new building next door.
The congregation of 250 should vote after Sunday’s service on whether to proceed with the final work to complete the building, Myer told The Associated Press.
“But we didn’t get to that. Every vote counts and we had one vote to trump us all,” said Myer, 67. “We were close. We were already that close.”
Myer said the community will pray about what happened, see how much their insurance will cover and work to rebuild. On Saturday morning, some members of the Church took an American flag that had been blown down in the storm and stood it upright amid the rubble of the original Church building.
Shelbie Villalpando, 27, of Powderly, Texas, said she was having dinner with her family on Friday when tornado sirens prompted them to scramble first in the hallways of their rented home and then with their children, ages 5, 10, and 14 years to gather in the bathtub.
“Within two minutes of putting them in the bath, we had to lay over the kids because everything was starting to get crazy,” Villalpando said.
“I’ve never been so scared,” she said. “I could hear glass breaking and things splintering but every time I came out of the bathroom my heart and stomach sank because I have kids and it could have been a lot worse. … What if our bathroom collapsed just like everything else? We wouldn’t be here.”
Terimaine Davis and his son huddled in the bathtub until just before the tornado ripped through Friday and reduced their Powderly home to a roofless, sagging heap.
“We left about five minutes before the tornado actually hit,” Davis, 33, told The Associated Press. “Me and my son were in the house in the tub and that was about all that was left.”
In her driveway Saturday morning, a child’s car seat was leaning against a battered, gray Chevrolet sedan with multiple broken windows. In the back, his wife, Lori Davis, handed Terimaine a basket of toiletries found in the rubble of their home.
The couple and the three children who live with them didn’t have renters insurance, Lori Davis said, and none of their furniture survived. “We have to start from scratch,” she said.
They hope to be able to stay with their family until they find an apartment.
“The next few days look like tough times,” said Terimaine Davis.
Judge Brandon Bell, the highest elected official in Lamar County, where Powderly is located, declared a disaster in the area. Bell’s statement said at least two dozen people were injured across the county.
Powderly is located approximately 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Idabel and approximately 120 miles (193 kilometers) northeast of Dallas, both near the Texas-Oklahoma border.
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth confirmed three tornadoes — in Lamar, Henderson and Hopkins counties — Friday night as a series of storms brought rain and sporadic hail to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and pushed further east.
The Shreveport, Louisiana Weather Service office said it was assessing the damage in Oklahoma.
Fort Worth Weather Service meteorologist Bianca Garcia said while peak season for severe weather is usually in spring, tornadoes occasionally develop in October, November, December and even January.
“It’s not very common,” Garcia said, “but it does occur in our region.”
Associated Press writer Ken Miller of Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
About the photo: Logan Johnson, 11, carries a sign that reads “Grateful” after recovering it from his family’s destroyed home on Saturday, November 5, 2022, after a tornado struck in Powderly, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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