The Heat Is Online

Tornadoes Wreak Havoc in Fort Worth

Damage from deadly twisters paralyze Fort Worth

Reuters News Service, March 31, 2000

FORT WORTH - Overturned cars, shattered glass from high-rise buildings and rain-soaked debris littered streets as the aftermath of destructive tornadoes and severe storms that killed four people paralysed the city on Wednesday.

Power lines were downed and trees were uprooted by the storms that struck the Fort Worth and Dallas areas on Tuesday evening. Rescue crews searched for victims.

"Luckily it was very few and far between as far as victims found in those buildings last night," Fort Worth fire Lt. Kent Wolsey said.

Front-end loaders and dump trucks plied Fort Worth streets as authorities closed the downtown. People were urged to stay away until experts could determine if any buildings sustained structural damage. Authorities also worried about broken glass still dangling from buildings.

Fort Worth is a city of some 500,000 people about 30 miles (48 Km) west of Dallas. A church lost its roof and the walls of its steeple. Other buildings collapsed and many structures lost all or part of their roofs.

"I've been with the fire department for 23 years and this is the worst damage I've ever seen," Wolsey said.

"Imagine a large bomb going off," said Sean Finley, whose restaurant atop a 35-story building was destroyed by winds that blasted through windows.

Jerry Johns of Southwestern Insurance Information Centre said the early damage estimate was in the hundreds of millions of dollars.


Fire officials received reinforcements from about 100 specialists from the Texas Urban Search and Rescue Team, created by the state legislature after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Officials said it was fortunate the twister and the storms, which struck as downtown Fort Worth was full of office workers and restaurant patrons, did not claim more lives. "We did have four fatalities but it is a miracle with this storm that we did not have more injuries," Mayor Kenneth Barry said.

One person was killed by flying debris and a homeless man died when winds toppled a brick wall he had taken shelter behind, officials said. Both of those deaths were west of downtown in a hard-hit area of light industrial buildings. Two people drowned when their car was caught in flooding.

Scores of people were treated for glass cuts and other lacerations from flying debris, and four were admitted to hospitals for more severe injuries, including a 19-year-old man whose skull was fractured by softball-sized hail, said Harris Methodist Hospital spokeswoman Laura Van Hoosier.

Three people were arrested on suspicion of trying to loot a bank building, police said. A barricade was put up around the centre of the city, Police Chief Ralph Mendoza said. Several downtown businesses announced they would remain closed in the morning, including the headquarters of Tandy Corp., parent of the Radio Shack electronics chain.

Power was knocked out in several neighbourhoods and about 30,000 customers were without power overnight, utility TZU Corp. said.

Tornadoes out of the same storm front also hit two Dallas-areas suburbs, Arlington and Grand Prairie, ripping roofs off houses but causing no deaths, police said.

Tornado likened to bomb blast

Stephanie Watson, March 29, 2000

Downtown Fort Worth was closed Wednesday, and may remain that way through the weekend, as crews work to clean up the damage done by one of two tornadoes that struck the area on Tuesday night. They began sifting through shattered glass and other debris Wednesday morning.

The National Weather Service completed a preliminary assessment of the damage on Tuesday, and says the tornadoes that struck Fort Worth were as strong as an F2 on the Fujita scale, carrying winds between 113 and 157 mph.

Sean Finley, whose restaurant atop a 35-story building was demolished by the tornado, compared the experience to "a large bomb going off."

Emergency officials said one person was killed by flying debris, and a homeless man died when the brick wall he had taken shelter behind collapsed. Two others died when their car was caught up in flooding. Nearly 100 people were reportedly injured, most from flying glass and other debris.

"We did have four fatalities but it is a miracle with this storm that we did not have more injuries," said Mayor Kenneth Barr.

The storm hit during the middle of rush hour, around 6 p.m. (CST), snarling traffic with heavy rain and hail. Two tornadoes reportedly hit the Fort Worth area, one directly in the downtown business district, and the other in the suburb of Arlington.

One homeowner described the scene as the tornado hit. "I grabbed my dog and went into the downstairs bathroom, and as I was shutting the door, stuff started flying in (the window). I could hear all the glass breaking and I was holding onto the pedestal saying, praying to God that this would get over with quickly."

Thankfully, said Dr. John Scala, Storm Analyst at The Weather Channel, the two storms that spawned the tornadoes crossed paths. As they merged, one storm fizzled and the other traveled south, both missing downtown Dallas.

"This was bad, but it could have been worse," he said.

In Fort Worth, strong winds blew out windows in high-rise office buildings, raining down glass on pedestrians below. Winds also uprooted trees and overturned cars in the streets.

Emergency crews combed the city Wednesday morning to determine the final damage toll. The Fort Worth city government has asked people who work in the downtown area to stay home until the assessment is complete.

"If we get any wind at all some of that glass could break free, and if it breaks free it comes down kind of Frisbee style and is very very hazardous," said Mayor Barr.

Some of the most seriously damaged structures were the Cash America building, where the FBI has its offices, and the Calvary Cathedral International.

Passengers at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were given quite a scare when the storm moved through. As a precaution, those waiting in the Delta terminal were evacuated to the tunnels until the area was clear.

Power was knocked out to several neighborhoods, utility TXU Corp. said. An estimated 30,000 people lost power at the height of the storm, 7,500 remained without electricity Wednesday morning.

Approximately 250 crews have been sent out in an effort to restore power.

"We anticipate that we should have nearly everyone back on by the end of (Wednesday)," said TXU spokesman Chris Schein.

The American Red Cross has opened shelters in Fort Worth, River Oaks, Grand Prairie and Arlington. Two hundred ninety-seven people sought refuge Tuesday night.

As the system moved east on Wednesday, two tornado watches were posted. One covered northeast Texas and northwest Louisiana, and was set to expire at 8 p.m. CST. The other covered southeast Louisiana and western Mississippi near the Gulf Coast. It was in effect until 6 p.m. CST.

Though tornado watches were posted, no twisters developed, and severe weather was limited to hail.

The system was expected to continue its eastward track Wednesday night, but lose strength, lessening the chances for severe weather overnight.

Reuters Limited contributed to this report.