ARLINGTON, Texas -- Amid preliminary estimates that an EF-2 tornado might have touched down in southwest Arlington on Tuesday, city officials Wednesday switched to recovery mode, allowing homeowners back into devastated neighborhoods, setting up a help center, and warning residents about shady contractors.
An estimated 428 homes were damaged when winds estimated at 135 mph roared through shortly after lunch, officials said.
At least seven people in Arlington were injured during the severe storm. One person was reportedly taken to an area hospital with critical injuries, Fire Chief Don Crowson said Wednesday.
Crowson later said he believed that all the injured were in stable condition or better.
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth has not yet officially determined whether the damage was caused by one or two tornadoes or straight-line winds. Preliminary estimates are that two tornadoes, one an EF-2, may have touched down in the city.
Emergency officials and National Weather Service surveyors fanned out across hard-hit neighborhoods in Arlington and Kennedale early Wednesday. Homeowners with proof of residency were being allowed back into the locked-down areas.
Assistant Police Chief James Hawthorne said officers would continue to secure the neighborhoods as long as needed.
"Everything worked in the city," Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said about Tuesday's disaster response, which began when the city's alert system was activated at 1:17 p.m. "The sirens worked. The early warnings worked. That's why I think everybody's alive today."
Three zones in the city were marked as the hardest-hit areas: one near Martin High School, where 185 homes were damaged; one in the Chesterfield neighborhood along U.S. 287, where 143 homes or apartments were damaged; and one in the Waterview area near Lake Arlington, where 102 homes were damaged.
Hardest-hit areas include the Green Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where one person was hurt and 35 other people were relocated to other nursing homes after a roof collapsed in one section of the facility.
About 100 homes were damaged and one person was reportedly injured in the Oldfield Neighborhood.
Two buildings there suffered damage. Between 25 and 30 homes in a nearby neighborhood close to U.S. 287 also had severe damage, city officials said.
The Salvation Army downtown remains the city's primary shelter for storm victims, Crowson said. The city is working to coordinate volunteers and donations to aid affected residents.
The fierce midday thunderstorms in Texas spawned as many as 10 tornadoes that ripped off roofs, yanked down trees and flung vehicles around.
Most of the storms' power was concentrated in southwest Arlington, where emergency crews searched homes for residents and dealt with ruptured gas lines and downed power lines, and in Lancaster, a suburb south of Dallas where dazed homeowners were assessing damage.
According to preliminary estimates, more than 100 homes in Arlington, about 50 homes and five businesses in Kennedale and 300 homes and businesses in Lancaster were significantly damaged.
But given the raw intensity of the storm cells and their reach through a dozen counties, it is remarkable that no deaths were reported. Seven people in Arlington and 10 people in Lancaster were injured, as was one woman in Kennedale who had been in a mobile home that was destroyed.
"We are only seeing minor injuries, which is amazing with a storm of this magnitude," Lt. Darrel Whitfield of the Arlington Fire Department said Tuesday.
And the damage, while distressing, seemed imminently recoverable. The Insurance Council of Texas, an Austin-based industry group, said it was too early to estimate the damage to insured property.
Still, the scope of the storm was breathtaking, even for veterans of Texas springs.
At various points, meteorologists and forecasters warned of tornadoes spotted in the air or on the ground in Joshua, Kennedale, Arlington, Lancaster, Dallas, Mesquite, Carrollton, Addison, Royse City and Forney.
After tornadoes killed hundreds of people in Kentucky, Alabama and Missouri in the past year, North Texas schools, universities, businesses and government offices ordered people into secure areas to ride out most of the long afternoon. That may well have made a major difference in the storm's toll.
"The fact that (the tornadoes) came during the middle of the week and middle of day when people could take appropriate action probably saved countless lives," said Eric Martello, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth. "If it had been overnight, it could have been a lot worse."
In Tarrant County, the tornado appeared to move northeast across Kennedale, then into neighborhoods in Arlington near Interstate 20 and U.S. 287.
Across Pleasant Ridge Road, Ben Blackshear and his wife, Pamela, surveyed what remained of their home. Pamela Blackshear had been there, on the telephone with her daughter until just before the tornado hit.
"It sounded like a really strong whistle," Pamela Blackshear said. "It was hard to hear because the sirens were going off at the same time, and the dogs were barking. We just laid on the floor. Then we heard glass shattering and the roof came off the house."
When her husband got home, he found their roof across the road near a church.
"I put my blood, sweat and tears into this house," Ben Blackshear said. "I remodeled everything. It took me 15 years, and it was gone in 15 seconds. Oh my God."
Mayor Cluck signed a disaster declaration, stating that the city had "determined that extraordinary measures must be taken to alleviate the suffering of people and to protect or rehabilitate property."
The declaration paves the way for the city to seek state or federal financial assistance. Crowson said the request has been submitted to the state.
The storm was the worst to hit Arlington since March 2000, when twin twisters swept through Tarrant County in the early evening. One tornado killed people in a 3.5-mile swath from the edge of River Oaks to downtown Fort Worth.
Another tornado smashed Arlington and Grand Prairie, damaging hundreds of homes. Together, the storms claimed five lives and caused $450 million damage across the county.
In Kennedale on Wednesday, residents and business owners continued to clean up from Tuesday's storms, which damaged 45 homes and six businesses, city spokeswoman Amethyst Cirmo said.
"They range from minor damage to total loss," she said.
Only one minor injury was reported, she said.
Most of the damaged homes are in a neighborhood near Kennedale High School.
Police were stationed overnight at businesses on Tower Drive where several buildings were damaged by the storm, Police Chief Tommy Williams said.
Three mobile homes on New Hope Road were destroyed, Williams said.
"It looks like the tornado hit a house here and a house there, and then skipped over most of Kennedale," he said.
Rick Edwards, associate superintendent of Kennedale schools, was similarly grateful.
"There has been no damage to any of our buildings," he said. "We saw the tornado. It went right between Patterson Elementary and the high school buildings."
As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, 15,000 customers in Tarrant County and 18,000 in Dallas County were without electricity, according to Oncor Electric Delivery, which operates most power lines in the region.
In all, more than 40,000 customers in Oncor's service area were without power.
By 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oncor said a little more than 7,000 were still without power in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar said the utility called in dozens of crews from Central and West Texas and worked through the night.
Before the storms moved into Tarrant County, they hit Johnson County. A tornado believed to be a mile wide touched down on the east side of Joshua, from Keene to Trail Head Drive, Joshua Fire Department Battalion Chief Russ Bassham said.
Grand Prairie firefighter Branten Rose, who lives in Joshua, said he stepped outside his front door about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday and saw the tornado. The funnel lifted up just before it got to his Joshua Meadows neighborhood, right behind Joshua High School, Rose said.
Johnson County Sheriff's Lt. Tim Jones said that four homes in the county were so severely damaged that they cannot be lived in, with roofs torn up and debris embedded in walls. A family hid inside one home when the storm hit.
"We're very blessed not to have any injuries," Jones said.
Arlington residents allowed into locked-down neighborhoods
Residents of heavily damaged areas in Arlington are allowed access Wednesday with temporary permits issued at controlled-access points to the neighborhoods.
Proof of residency is required for permits -- such as state identification, vehicle registration, insurance cards, utility bills and mail.
Permanent permits are required starting Thursday and will be issued to residents at the Arlington West Police Service Station.
All contractors needing access to affected areas must get a contractor's permit from the Arlington South Police Service Station. Contractor permits are valid for the day they are issued only.
Contractors must provide proof through valid work orders or similar documents that their services have been requested by residents in the affected areas. Contractors are not allowed to enter neighborhoods to solicit business.
Laborers without business credentials who want to help with the cleanup must be met by residents at controlled access points and escorted into the areas.
McClatchy Newspapers reporters Terry Evans, Domingo Ramirez Jr. and Patrick Walker contributed to this article.
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