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Cleanup Continues In Van In East Texas After Tornado Kills 2 And Injures Dozens

As you drive into the city of Van from the west, the mailbox is hard to miss. It says “Storms.”

Krystal Storms was watching Star Trek with her family when she heard the warning sirens go off Sunday night.

Her home, like many in Van, doesn’t have a storm shelter. Instead, she gathered everyone up in the hallway between the bathroom and bedroom.

“Me, my husband, my 7-year-old daughter, my 13-year-old daughter, my 15-year-old son and my 16-year-old daughter," she said. "All crammed in that space.”

With the power off, they huddled there for more than an hour.

“You felt waves of like concussion waves from the air going pretty hard, blew the front door wide open,” Storms said.

Her small ranch-style house made it through the storm OK, but some 50 to 100 homes and trailers were damaged or destroyed.

At First Baptist Church, volunteers moved bottles of water into a gym that’s become an impromptu shelter.

Marta Vasquez sits outside with her puppy, Tuna. It was drizzling but she’s too shaken up to be bothered.

Vasquez says after the alarm went off, she took her kids to the bathroom and suddenly the power went out.

“I thought the trailer was going to fly away,” she says. They prayed in the bathroom. Not long after, firefighters came and the family was evacuated because of a gas leak nearby.

Inside First Baptist Church there are about 50 cots, some with pillows and blankets and a few people trying to get some rest.

Bryan Shurgot is eating green beans and mashed potatoes. He says he hasn’t slept since the tornado.

“I tried to get to my parents’ house and couldn’t get there, finally parked here at the church, and took off my flip-flops, put on my boots and ran,” he said. “It took me 25 minutes to get to my parents’ house because I was just trying to avoid power lines, debris.”

He says his folks, Richard and Debbie, were both injured. They all hopped on an ATV and eventually his parents were put in an ambulance and taken to the hospital where they were stitched and cleaned up. About 40 others were injured and taken to area hospitals.

Shurgot says everyone in the community is trying to help with recovery and clean up.

“Instead of pulling everybody apart, it’s actually bringing people us close together,” Shurgot said. “It showed us we need to be more like a family and take care of each other.”

Taped up on the wall of the hallway in the church, next to volunteers from the Red Cross, there are about a dozen pictures.

A pink sheet of paper says “Lost and Found Photos: if yours take.”

Black-and-white portraits, a baby photo and a yellowed high school football shot make an eerie collage. Just some images pulled from the rubble, memories waiting to be rediscovered.

The latest on the situation in Van

The Associated Press reports:

A tornado that cut through an East Texas town, killing two and injuring dozens, was on the ground for nearly 10 miles and left a path of destruction 700 yards wide.

Van Zandt County emergency management coordinator Chuck Allen said Tuesday the two people killed Sunday night in Van were retired Garland police Lt. David Tapley and his wife Brenda.

Allen says two people are hospitalized in critical condition. The twister, with sustained winds of about 140 mph, injured approximately 50 people. Authorities have accounted for all residents in the damaged area, about 70 miles southeast of Dallas.

Allen says the storm damage throughout the county amounts to "several millions of dollars." He says authorities will be watching for profiteers preying on people struggling to recover.

Earlier coverage from The Associated Press:

Officials in the small East Texas town of Van say they have now accounted for all but three people who were reported missing following a deadly tornado.

Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for VanZandt County, also said at a news conference Monday afternoon that officials had confirmed that the tornado was an EF3, with winds from 135 mph to 140 mph.
Earlier, eight people were unaccounted for in Van, population 2,600, about 70 miles southeast of Dallas. 

Two people were killed during the storm.

Allen has said that about 30 percent of the community was damaged by Sunday's storm. Dozens of people were hurt. About 50 people spent the night at an American Red Cross shelter at a church.

The destruction was widespread, with trees uprooted and numerous homes and buildings flattened or ripped apart.

Authorities went door to door following Sunday night's twister. 

Firefighters in Corsicana, 60 miles southwest of Van, recovered the body of a motorist early Monday after weekend storms dumped 11 inches of rain. Fire Chief Donald McMullan says the body of a man in his mid-20s was recovered early Monday by firefighters responding to reports of a missing person.

McMullan says the man's vehicle apparently stalled in a swollen creek, and he tried to escape through the floodwaters. His name was not immediately released.

Earlier story: The storm hit the east side of Van Zandt County and the city of Van around 8:45 p.m. Sunday. The National Weather Service says the storm likely produced a tornado.

Chuck Allen, the Van Zandt County fire marshal and emergency management coordinator, said in an email early Monday morning that approximately 26 patients were transported to hospitals after a triage area was established at a church.

He says damages range from completely destroyed homes to damaged homes to downed trees.

Allen says authorities are going door to door in the city about 70 miles southeast of Dallas, performing a second search for additional injured individuals.

Van Fire Chief Jeff Hudgens says the city sustained "some significant damage" to "multiple homes." There were no immediate reports of fatalities.

Elsewhere, officials say two groups of people in North Texas had to be rescued by helicopters after rising floodwaters left them stranded.

Denton County Deputy Fire Marshal Marc Dodd says a Texas National Guard helicopter airlifted four adults and one infant on Sunday from the roof of their home near the city of Krum.

Dodd says another helicopter rescued two adults near the city of Sanger from the roof of their pickup truck, which video showed was surrounded by rushing water.

He says 10 others in the county had to evacuate their homes.

National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Staley says some locations in North Texas have gotten from six to seven inches of rain over the past four days.

Officials will be performing damage assessments in the area Monday.

Authorities made dramatic rescues of some people in the town of Krum -- they were stranded by flash floods after torrential rains.

Denton County Emergency Services Chief Jody Gonzalez said Sunday that multiple rescues had been performed from flooded streets and homes in the small town located about 50 miles northwest of Dallas.

Television images showed some vehicles nearly submerged.

Late Sunday, the Corsicana airport recorded 7.26 inches of rain in just 2 hours, 20 minutes, according to the National Weather Service. Parts of Corsicana saw 10 inches of rain in five hours. 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.