Advertisement

Storms Pummel Dallas Area; 15 Dead, 3 Lost

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At least 15 people were killed and three others were missing Saturday after a spring thunderstorm packing softball-size hail, lashing rain and 70-m.p.h. wind struck the Dallas-Ft. Worth area Friday night. At least 100 people were injured.

Officials say five family members were killed when they were swept from their car after it stalled in a flooded Dallas creek Friday night. The father, Mike Frazier, was able to climb to safety and was rescued from a tree.

“My family! My family! My kids! My kids!” a stunned Frazier repeated, a witness said.

Friday’s storm was a double-barreled attack: Icy missiles of hail pelted Ft. Worth, while in Dallas, it was too much water too fast. In some areas, 5 1/2 inches of rain fell in one hour. Property damage was estimated at more than $500 million.

Advertisement

With more rain in the forecast, most of the concern now is with runoff that could again flood roads and houses since the ground is still saturated from earlier floods.

“It was a horrendous storm,” said Carolyn Garcia, a Dallas Fire Department spokeswoman. “The problem was it was like five raindrops, then here comes the downpour. I can’t even think what would happen if it rains that hard again (Saturday night).”

At a clothing company warehouse near Dallas’ Love Field airport, two people were killed and 21 injured when a 125-by-300-foot area of roof collapsed on top of workers.

“We are in the process of going through every inch where the roof came in to make sure no one is missing,” said Joe Haggar, chairman of Haggar Apparel Manufacturing.

Advertisement

“I feel absolutely terrible for our workers involved,” he said. Many of the injured workers were temporary employees hired to put labels on clothes. About five miles from the Haggar plant, part of the roof collapsed at the Mrs. Baird’s Bakery, setting off a two-alarm fire. “The supervisor yelled, ‘Everybody get out! Everybody get out!’ ” said one worker. Another employee, pointing to the smoldering bread plant, said, “There’s a lot of bread wasted in there.”

Flooding occurred just east of downtown at the Music Hall in the Fair Park cultural complex, where Tommy Tune was performing in “Stage Door Charlie” Friday night. The rains stopped the play in the middle of the first act. Six hundred theatergoers were stranded. “Nobody could get their cars out because of the fast-moving water,” said an audience member, Deborah Schlief. Dallas city buses were called to take them home.

Outside the Music Hall, 100 vehicles were damaged by rainwater that turned them into boats. When the water drained, parking lots looked like junkyards. The force of the water had lifted and dumped cars into heaps across the lot.

At Baylor University Medical Center, one of Dallas’ main trauma hospitals, the emergency room flooded and remained closed Saturday. Patients were rushed by elevator from the emergency room to upper floors of the hospital.

People driving on Dallas’ Central Expressway, the main north-south artery, were caught in underpasses, where water sat windshield-wiper high. On a portion of the freeway undergoing a massive renovation, a retaining wall threatened to give way and release a torrent of mud. Northbound lanes of the freeway, the oldest and busiest in Dallas, were closed.

On several streets leading from downtown, people had to be rescued from the roofs of cars that were stuck in the water. Cruz Aguilar was trying to rescue three people caught in a freeway underpass. He was just about to reach the car when he got sucked into a storm drain. His body has not been found.

In the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, in the southwest part of the city, Franklin Smith, the owner of Smitty’s sporting goods store, surveyed his roof, which collapsed under the weight of the rain, and sighed. “I’ve been watching the news and watching other people’s problems. Now I’ve got problems.”

Ft. Worth, 45 miles west of Dallas, was devastated by softball-size hail. At Mayfest, an annual arts and street fair, 60 people were injured by the sudden storm and pounding hail that tore away the tarpaulins of local artisans showing their wares. Said one patron: “The only thing you could think to do was huddle over people and protect them.”

Advertisement

A Ft. Worth police officer pointed to the blue portable toilets and commented: “The safest place in this place was in those Porta-Potties.”

At the Botanical Gardens near Mayfest, hundreds of windows were blown out of a greenhouse. In the Meadowbrook section of East Ft. Worth, the siding on houses was completely cracked, and bricks were chipped by hail driven by 70-m.p.h. winds. Elsewhere in Ft. Worth, rooftops were ravaged by a steady hailstorm that caused a bowling alley roof to collapse, a metal roof of a pizza parlor to crumple and smashed the skylights at City Hall.

At an Acura dealership in Ft. Worth, the hail damaged 100 cars beyond repair. The Dallas-Ft. Worth area is on alert for additional rain with thunderstorms predicted for today. The city is under a flash-flood watch. At the storm’s peak, 84,000 people were without electricity in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, according to T.U. Electric.

As of Saturday night, 4,500 people in Dallas, 30,000 in Ft. Worth, and 14,000 in outlying suburbs were without power. One hundred extra contract workers have been brought in to help restore power. The city hopes to have 85% of power restored by this evening.

Jerry Johns, a spokesman for Southwest Insurance Information Service, an umbrella group for leading insurance companies in Dallas, said insured losses will reach $350 million to $400 million at least.

“These are preliminary numbers. They could go higher with the beginning of the workweek,” he said. Dallas-Ft.Worth has sustained $1.6 billion in damage from hail since 1992, he added. “There seems to be a magnet here for hail,” Johns said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Advertisement