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12 Tornadoes Strike North Texas, Killing 13; Hundreds Of Homes Damaged In Rowlett, Garland

Twelve tornadoes raced through North Texas Saturday night, killing 11 people and damaging hundreds of homes. 

In several suburbs, emergency responders spent Saturday evening searching for residents in homes and surveying the damage. The surveying continued into Sunday.

Of the 11 who died, eight people were killed in automobile accidents in Garland at Interstate 30 and George Bush Turnpike. Some of the cars appear to have been thrown from the highways and onto the ground, Garland police say. North of Garland, three people died in Collin County, including an infant. (In the days following the storm, the death toll rose to 13.)

As the sun rose Sunday morning, television news helicopters showed scores of homes leveled in Garland, Rowlett and to the south of Dallas in Ellis County. Roofs were ripped off, leaving huge piles of debris on yards and in streets. The storms uprooted trees and flipped over cars. Bands of rain fell throughout the day Sunday. Homeowners spent the morning in the cold rain picking through their belongings. 

In Rowlett, northeast of Dallas, the mayor declared a state of disaster. Rowlett City Manager Brian Funderburk says 23 people were injured and "huge amounts of damage" from a tornado is widespread but concentrated in the eastern part of the city. Rowlett has a 24-hour curfew in the affected areas. The extent of the injuries are not known, and officials said there are no reports of missing people. About 6,000 homes were without power Sunday morning. Officials say there were reports of looting late Saturday.  

The National Weather Service says there were 11 preliminary tornado reports across North Texas -- crews confirmed nine tornadoes after surveying the damage Sunday. Crews will continue their work Monday. Crews eventually confirmed that 12 tornadoes hit North Texas.  

An EF4 tornado hit Garland, with winds of up to 200 mph, the weather service says. An EF3 tornado hit Rowlett, with winds of up to 165 mph. Two tornadoes have been confirmed in Collin County -- including an EF2 tornado near Copeville and an EF0 tornado near Blue Ridge.

Meanwhile, on Monday, weather service crews determined an EF3 tornado hit northern Ellis County. 

Weather service crews determined the EF4 tornado – the biggest one from Saturday night – had winds of up to 180 miles per hour. That tornado traveled 13 miles, hitting Sunnyvale, Garland and Rowlett. 

Flooding was a concern across North Texas through the weekend. By Sunday, for the first time ever, precipitation had topped 60 inches for the year at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the National Weather Service said. 

Update: What we know about the North Texas tornado victims.

Rowlett: 'We will rebuild' 

In Rowlett, several homes were destroyed and power lines were down. Power was out throughout much of the city Saturday night, Rowlett Mayor Todd Gottel said. He encouraged residents to check on their neighbors to make sure they are OK.  The mayor encouraged people to stay off the roads to keep them clear for emergency responders. 

"Please keep Rowlett in your prayers and pray for those injured," Gottel said. "Pray for those that have property damage. I think I am most amazed at the outpouring of affection and willingness to help. Words cannot express my gratitude. We will rebuild and we will become stronger as a community."

In Garland, about 600 buildings were damaged, including homes, apartments and commercial property. Fifteen people were taken by ambulance to hospitals with various injuries, although none appear to be life-threatening. As of Sunday morning, 3,000 customers were without power in Garland. Garland Animal Services employees were taking lost pets to the city shelter at 600 Tower Street.  

Dallas County Sheriff's office spokeswoman Melinda Urbina said several emergency teams were dispatched to Sunnyvale, just east of Dallas, Saturday night following reports of trailers on fire and possible injuries in a mobile home park. Nearby roads had been shut due to debris and that the damage to the homes was likely extensive enough to render some "inhabitable." 

The American Red Cross set up shelters in Rowlett, Garland and Midlothian.

Interviews: Survivors talk about the storms

Churches damaged south of Dallas

There were several reports of damage in Ellis County, south of Dallas. Stephanie Parker, the emergency manager for Ellis County, posted on Twitter: "We have destroyed and damaged homes. Please do not get out on the roads if you do not have to." 

There were several reports of damage in Glenn Heights, along the Dallas-Ellis County line, including the Ovilla Road Church of the Nazarene. Nearby, Harvest of Praise Ministry was also damaged. Pastor Kevin Taylor was in the church during the storm, but got out and is safe, he said in a Facebook message. Harvest of Praise planned to hold a service at 10 a.m. Sunday. "Be prayerful," Taylor said.  

'Extremely dangerous' tornadoes

Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms pounded North Texas over several hours early Saturday evening. Shortly before 7 p.m., the National Weather Service said there were indications of a "potentially strong" tornado near Garland and Rowlett. Weather service radar showed strong rotation with winds reaching at least 140 mph near the intersection of Interstate 30 and the George Bush Turnpike.

At 7:15 p.m., the weather service reported strong circulation in a storm moving to the north between Farmersville and Princeton in Collin County. Minutes later, the weather service said a “large and extremely dangerous tornado” was located near Princeton. 

North of Dallas, in Collin County, Copeville was hit hard. The Collin County Sheriff’s Office reported downed power lines and debris in the roadways.

At the height of the storm, about 50,000 people were without power across North Texas.

Update: Survivors share their stories.

Update: What we know about the North Texas tornado victims.

Learn more: How you can help North Texas tornado victims.

Update: Monday morning tornado update on "The Takeaway"


Interview: Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins talks about the storms on "Here & Now"


Interview: American Red Cross on the tornadoes

NPR talked with Anita Foster with the American Red Cross in North Texas:

Pictures of the damage

Ovilla Road Church of the Nazarene church van #2 upside down #wfaaweather @wfaachannel8 @wfaaweather — Nefty Gonzalez (@WFAAPhotog) December 27, 2015

National Weather Service radar

Flooding in Dallas

A flash flood warning was in effect for Dallas County Saturday night. Dallas police reported several roads were covered by water, including Mockingbird Lane near Dallas Love Field. 

Mavericks game delayed

The game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls was delayed Saturday because of reports of tornadoes. The start time at American Airlines Center was pushed back about 30 minutes to 8 p.m. as severe weather moved through downtown Dallas. American Airlines Center officials were working to get fans in the arena about two hours prior to game time, before gates were set to open. Some fans were caught in drenching rain on their way into the building.

'Crippling' blizzard in forecast for Texas Panhandle

Bands of rain will hit North Texas overnight and into Sunday morning. As Saturday's tornadoes left their damage in the Dallas metro area, the Texas Panhandle is bracing for what the weather service is calling a "life-threatening and crippling" blizzard. At least a foot of snow is expected and a blizzard warning is in effect for the Panhandle until noon Monday. 

North Texas could see a mix of rain and snow Sunday night into Monday, but don't expect much of the snow to stick to the ground since temperatures will stay above freezing.

Between 6 to 15 inches of snow are in the forecast for the Texas Panhandle, which includes Amarillo and Lubbock. High winds will drive wind chills as low as 10 below zero and cause low visibility due to blowing and drifting snow.

Other parts of Texas and Oklahoma, including El Paso, are under winter storm warnings, while North Texas, central Oklahoma and central Kansas are under a winter storm watch.

Widespread rain has prompted flash flood watches in eastern Texas, eastern Oklahoma, most of Arkansas, central and southern Missouri and Illinois and central Indiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.