GRANBURY, Texas — Forecasters say the tornado that claimed six lives and destroyed dozens of homes in North Texas is believed to have had winds up to 200 mph.
The National Weather Service said the preliminary storm estimate for Wednesday night’s tornado in Granbury was an EF-4, based on the Fujita tornado damage scale. That means the storm carried wind speeds of 166 mph to 200 mph.
The NWS believes 10 tornadoes raked North Texas in a violent system, including the one in Granbury, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Other tornadoes damaged nearby Cleburne and Millsap.
Forecast Jesse Moore says NWS teams traveled to the affected cities Thursday to survey the damage and speak with emergency management officials.
He says more than one tornado might have touched down in various areas.
In Granbury, the worst-hit city, a tornado tore through two neighborhoods around 8 p.m. Wednesday. Resident Elizabeth Tovar said fist-sized hail heralded the tornado’s arrival and prompted her and her family to hide in their bathroom.
“We were all, like, hugging in the bathtub and that’s when it started happening. I heard glass shattering and I knew my house was going,” Tovar said, shaking her head. “We looked up and … the whole ceiling was gone.”
The powerful storm crushed buildings as it tore through the area, leaving some as just piles of planks and rubble. Trees and debris were scattered across yards, fences flattened.
Behind one house, a detached garage was stripped of most of its aluminum siding, the door caved in and the roof torn off. A tree behind the house was stripped of its branches and a vacant doublewide mobile home on an adjoining lot was torn apart.
Daniel and Amanda Layne initially thought they were safe sheltering under their carport. But then “it started getting worse and worse,” and the couple took shelter in their bathroom, Daniel Layne said.
“The windows and the cars are gone. Both our cars are messed up. I had a big shop. Ain’t a piece of it left now,” Layne said with a shrug.
Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds described the devastating aftermath and the hunt for bodies in Granbury, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
“Some were found in houses. Some were found around houses,” Deeds said. “There was a report that two of these people that they found were not even near their homes. So we’re going to have to search the area out there.”
Seven people remain unaccounted and authorities hope they are all staying with family or friends, Deeds said at a Thursday morning news conference. Emergency responders were combing the area and worked to identify the six adults whose remains were found, he said.
He said 37 injured people were treated at hospitals.
Harold Brooks, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s severe storm lab in Norman, Okla., said May 15 is the latest into the month that the U.S. has had to wait for its first significant tornadoes of the year. Brooks said he would expect 2013 to be one of the least lethal tornado years since the agency started keeping records in 1954. Officials have yet to determine the exact strength of the tornado in Granbury.
Utilities said about 20,000 homes and businesses were without power early Thursday.
Another tornado that storm spotters told the National Weather Service was a mile wide tore through Cleburne, a courthouse city of about 30,000 about 25 miles southeast of Granbury.
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said early Thursday that no one was killed or seriously hurt, although seven people suffered minor injuries. He estimated that dozens of homes were damaged and declared a local disaster.
In one neighborhood, a trucking company trailer that had been parked on the street was picked up and dropped onto a nearby car and garage.
Another tornado hit the small town of Millsap, about 40 miles west of Fort Worth. Parker County Judge Mark Kelley said roof damage was reported to several houses and a barn was destroyed, but no injuries were reported.
Hail as large as grapefruit also pelted the area around Mineral Wells on Wednesday evening. A police dispatcher reported only minor damage.
Associated Press writers Terry Wallace and Jamie Stengle in Dallas and freelance photographer Mike Fuentes contributed to this report.