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Deadly East Texas Tornado Could Require Year-Long Cleanup

Lane Luckie
KLTV via Twitter

DALLAS  — It could take at least a year for the East Texas town of Van to rebuild from a tornado that cut a 10-mile-long path through the community, leaving two dead and injuring dozens, officials said Tuesday.

The twister Sunday packed winds of about 140 mph and a Red Cross assessment team determined about 120 homes in Van were either damaged or destroyed, according to Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster.

Also sustaining heavy damage were the nearby elementary and intermediate schools, along with the school district’s administrative building, prompting the district to cancel classes Monday and Tuesday.

The roof of the cafeteria serving both schools collapsed, according to Superintendent Don Dunn.

About 50 people were taken to hospitals after the tornado bore a path 700 yards wide and lashed the town of 2,600 about 70 miles southeast of Dallas. Two people were in critical condition Tuesday. Van Zandt County emergency management coordinator Chuck Allen identified the two people killed in the wreckage of their home as David and Brenda Tapley.

David Tapley was a retired police lieutenant who worked in the Dallas suburb of Garland. Neighbors told Dallas-Fort Worth station KTVT that they found the couple’s bodies near one another, with one of David Tapley’s arm wrapped around a family dog, who survived, and the other extended toward his wife.

Allen said the storm system that moved through the county caused “several millions of dollars” in damage.

Foster said the Red Cross will likely continue providing services in Van for a couple of weeks. She said rebuilding efforts will take much longer. “It can take literally minutes to wipe out a community and it can take a couple of years for the rebuilding effort,” she said, explaining that homes were still being replaced a year after a tornado struck Granbury in 2013.

The Tapleys were among five people killed Sunday after a line of powerful tornadoes battered several small communities in Texas and Arkansas. Three people died in Texas, including a driver, Courtney Lewis of Corsicana, who was swept away by floodwaters after that town received 11 inches of rain. Flash flooding in the region closed roads and forced some East Texas residents from their homes.

Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a storms disaster declaration for Van Zandt, Bosque, Clay, Denton, Eastland, Gaines and Montague counties.

In Van, large lights were placed on some streets to illuminate neighborhoods at night and deter looters. Allen said authorities will be watching for profiteers preying on people struggling to recover.

Leslie Bishop’s home is two blocks from the tornado’s path and was unscathed. On Monday, she picked up debris from her yard, including other people’s photographs and a report card dating to 1966. “I’ve always heard a tornado is like a freight train, and we were standing right on the tracks,” she said.

Jonathan Yost, 18, attends Van High School and said he rounded up more than a dozen friends to move trees and help people salvage furniture from homes with roofs and walls sheared away. “A lot of us have been raised to help and put our work where it needs to be,” Yost said. (AP)