The lawn of what used to be the Van, Texas, intermediate school is scattered with shards of glass and long, twisted strips of metal and plastic. The building’s windows are blown out, and debris hangs choked on the windowsills.
The roof has been severed from the walls, evidence of the unconfirmed tornado that tore through Van late Sunday. Two people — an adult man and woman related to one another — have been confirmed dead as a result of the storm, Van Zandt County Fire Marshal Chuck Allen said Monday.
It looks like seeing your entire childhood destroyed, residents told CNN on Monday.
In all, at least five people are dead, dozens injured, and eight remain unaccounted for after severe storms tore across the middle of the United States over the weekend. More than 70 tornadoes were reported in the Midwest and Plains states.
As day broke in Van, the significant destruction from Sunday’s storm became evident. Officials said that search canines were helping comb through the town to search for the missing.
Fire Marshal Allen said Monday that crews were focusing search efforts near where the missing were last seen.
Warning sirens began to wail around 8:45 p.m. Sunday, minutes before the apparent tornado struck Van. A National Weather Service tornado warning was in effect for the area. Allen said emergency responders took 43 people to area hospitals, and many more were taken by private vehicle.
Approximately 30% of the town suffered damage, Allen estimated. Van’s website says the town covers some 3 square miles and is home to more than 2,300 people. Approximately 53,000 people live in Van Zandt County, east of Dallas.
Allen said between 50 and 100 homes were damaged. The elementary school and intermediate school had “significant damage.”
“Every bit of that can be replaced,” Van Independent School District Superintendent Don Dunn said. “We feel very blessed that this did not happen during a school day.”
Van’s schools were closed Monday because of the storm damage, the district Facebook page said.
National Weather Service personnel arrived Monday to assess the damage and determine the strength of the storm.
Emergency workers use ATVs to rescue walking wounded
Aerial footage from CNN affiliate KTVT over Van showed roofless homes, mud-covered streets and downed trees across residential areas. People walked around, surveying the damage clearing mounds of debris from their yards and roads.
“It’s just something that you never expect,” Mayor Dean Stone said Monday.
Some homes appeared to have been ripped from their foundations, or flattened, with only wooden beams jutting skyward.
“Damages range from completely destroyed homes, damaged homes, to trees and power lines down,” Allen said. “The initial response of emergency responders was to locate and identify any injured individuals.”
The Van city Facebook page directs anyone looking to donate items to the Red Cross or help with cleanup to report to a command center at the fire department.
The Red Cross is helping emergency officials and has set up a shelter and triage area at the First Baptist Church. Teams on foot and on ATVs were rescuing the walking wounded.
The Van Fire Department said on its Facebook page that a second storm cell struck around 10:30 p.m., and sirens sounded again to warn emergency officials in the field to take cover. The department said the area was not safe and urged people to stay away and off the roads.
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SOURCE: CNN, Ann Colwell