At least 2 dead after tornadoes sweep through Texas and Oklahoma

A boy holding a sign that reads "thankful" outside his family's destroyed home
Logan Johnson, 11, carries a sign he recovered from his family’s destroyed home Saturday in Powderly, Texas.
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

Residents of southeastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas began assessing damage Saturday after a storm that stretched from Dallas to northwest Arkansas spawned tornadoes and flash flooding, killing at least two people, injuring others and leaving homes and buildings in ruins.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt visited the town of Idabel to see the damage.

He said on social media that all the homes in the rural town of about 7,000, located at the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, had been searched, and a 90-year-old man had been killed. Keli Cain, spokesperson for the state’s Department of Emergency Management, said the man’s body was found at his home in the Pickens area of McCurtain County.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said a 6-year-old girl drowned and a 43-year-old man was missing after water swept their vehicle off a bridge near Stilwell.


The incident has not been officially attributed to the storm and will be investigated by the medical examiner, Cain said.

On Saturday afternoon, Stitt declared a state of emergency for McCurtain County and neighboring Bryan, Choctaw and LeFlore counties.

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The declaration is a step toward qualifying for federal assistance and funding and clears the way for state agencies to make purchases related to disaster recovery without limits on bidding requirements.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said damage assessments and recovery efforts are underway in the northeastern part of the state and encouraged residents to report any damage to the Division of Emergency Management.

“I have deployed all available resources to help respond and recover,” Abbott said in a statement. “I thank all of our hardworking state and local emergency management personnel for their swift response.”

Robert Darby, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Oklahoma, said the far-reaching storm produced heavy rain in the Stilwell area, around 4 inches.


Cain noted the extensive damage in Idabel.

“There are well over 100 homes and businesses damaged, from minor damage to totally destroyed,” he said.

Trinity Baptist Church of Idabel was preparing to complete a new building when the storm ripped apart its sanctuary and flattened the shell of the new structure next door, Pastor Don Myer said.

The 250-member congregation was to vote after the Sunday service on whether to move ahead with work to complete the building, Myer said.

“But we didn’t get to that. Every vote counts, and we had one vote trump us all,” Myer, 67, said. “We were right on the verge of that. That’s how close we were.”

Myer said the congregation is going to pray on what happened, see how much its insurance covers and work to rebuild.

On Saturday morning, a few members of the church took an American flag that had been blown over in the storm and stood it upright amid the wreckage of the original church building.


Shelbie Villalpando, 27, of Powderly, Texas, said she was eating dinner with her family Friday when tornado sirens prompted them to congregate first in the hallway of their rented home, then with her children, ages 5, 10 and 14, in the bathtub.

“Within two minutes of getting them in the bathtub, we had to lay over the kids, because everything started going crazy,” she said.

“I’ve never been so terrified,” she added. “I could hear glass breaking and things shattering around, but whenever I got out of the bathroom, my heart and my stomach sank, because I have kids, and it could have been much worse. ... What if our bathroom had caved in just like everything else? We wouldn’t be here.”

Terimaine Davis and his son were huddled in their bathtub until just before the tornado barreled through Friday, reducing their home in Powderly to a roofless, sagging heap.

“Me and my son were in the house in the tub, and that was about the only thing left standing,” said Davis, 33.

In their driveway Saturday morning, a child’s car seat leaned against a dented, gray Chevrolet sedan with several windows blown out.


Around back, Davis’ wife, Lori, handed him a basket of toiletries from inside the wreckage of their house.

The couple and the three kids who live with them did not have renter’s insurance, Lori said, and none of their furniture survived.

“We’re going to have to start from scratch,” she said.

They hope to stay with family until they can find a place to live.

“The next few days look like rough times,” Terimaine said.

Judge Brandon Bell, the top elected official in Lamar County, where Powderly is located, declared a disaster in that area. Bell’s declaration said that at least two dozen people had been injured across the county.

Powderly is about 45 miles west of Idabel. Both are near the Texas-Oklahoma border.

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth confirmed three tornadoes — in Lamar, Henderson and Hopkins counties — Friday night as storms hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area and pushed east.

The weather service’s office in Shreveport, La., said it was assessing the damage in Oklahoma.

Bianca Garcia, a meteorologist with the agency in Fort Worth, said that while severe weather typically peaks in spring, tornadoes occasionally develop in October, November, December and even January.


“It’s not very common,” Garcia said, “but it does happen across our region.”