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East Texas Coming To Grips With Tornadoes That Killed Four; Abbott Tours Damage

Note: This story includes updates from Canton Mayor Lou Ann Everett's and County Judge Don Kirkpatrick's noon press conference on Monday. It also includes updates from the National Weather Service in Fort Worth's additional survey of the storms.


Residents in and around the East Texas town of Canton are just getting the measure of the devastation that ripped up their neighborhoods Saturday night. Seven tornadoes killed four people. Two people that had been unaccounted for Sunday were found safe.

Lou Ann Everett is mayor of Canton, the hardest-hit area, about an hour east of Dallas. At a 3 p.m. briefing with the Gov. Greg Abbott Sunday, she said 49 people were taken to hospitals in the area, including Children's Medical Center in Dallas. Two remained hospitalized in the ICU as of Monday.

Abbott got views of the damage from the air and the ground on Sunday.

"Wicked winds that pierced through here and are gone the next minute," he said. "We as Texans, especially the folks here in east Texas. We come together and respond to challenges like this. And help our neighbors."

The National Weather Service confirmed that seven tornadoes hit East Texas, after further survey of the area Monday. The storms hit parts of Henderson and Rains counties; the most severe damage was reported in Van Zandt County, near Canton.

Crews began searching for survivors Saturday night, but downed power lines, gas leaks, heavy rain and additional reports of tornadoes hampered their efforts. Door-to-door searches were being done Sunday.

The swath of damage ran from Van Zandt County's southern border almost to the northern edge, about 35 miles long, Canton's mayor said. At some points, it stretched as wide as 15 miles. Everett asked volunteers not to come to the area yet.

This was a big weekend in Canton — the monthly First Monday Trade Days — a large flea market that features scores of vendors selling antiques, home furnishings and much more. The First Monday grounds weren't damaged, but the final day was canceled.

Everett called the devastation in other parts of Canton and the surrounding area "upsetting and heartbreaking."

About 30 crews from Oncor worked to restore power in the area after the storms knocked down trees and power lines. About 14,000 people were without power Sunday afternoon, Van Zandt County Judge Don Kirkpatrick said. Citizens were being encouraged to conserve water because of  the lack of electricity. 

Power was largely restored by Monday, and the water restriction was lifted, Mayor Everett said.

Kirkpatrick also issued a dusk-to-dawn curfew, effective until Wednesday, for affected areas outside the Canton city limits. 

Greg Abbott: 'Time for Texas to come together'

Governor Abbott said Sunday that in the next 24 hours, authorities would continue to look for people in the rubble and clear debris, and volunteers can come later.

He said the best way to help out the community right now is through cash donations. Mayor Everett asks for people to hold onto other donations, like clothing, until the city and county figure out how to handle them.

Abbott's office sent a press release Sunday encouraging Texans to help those affected by the tornadoes. On Monday, he declared Henderson, Rains and Van Zandt counties in a state of disaster. 

Resources for community

The American Red Cross of North Texas set up two shelters for victims — one at Canton's First Methodist Church Life Center, the other at the Emory City Center in Emory.

For wounded animals, there is a vet station set up at Canton Junior High. And an animal shelter for lost pets is operating out of the Sears Hometown Store in Canton. Canton and Fruitvale schools will be closed Monday. Citizens in the area are encouraged to check their school district in the coming days for closures.

U-Haul of East Dallas is offering 30 days of free self-storage and U-Box container usage to residents of Canton and surrounding communities who were affected by the tornadoes. People seeking more information should contact one of the following stores: 

  • U-Haul of Rose City, located at 411 N. Northwest Loop 323 in Tyler; (903) 939-2913.
  • U-Haul of Longview, located at 410 W. Marshall Ave.; (903) 757-3436.

Abbott  said Saturday that  Texas Task Force 2 was sent to help the Van Zandt areas to respond to the storms. 

The paths of the storms

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth posted initial paths for the storms Saturday night. The service  said survey crews spent Sunday and Monday examining the damage to determine the strength and number of tornadoes. On Tuesday, they updated the storm paths. The first, second, sixth and seventh tornado were given an initial rating of EF-0; the third tornado was an E-F4; the fourth an EF-2, and fifth, EF-3.

  • The first tornado struck near Grand Saline in Van Zandt County around 4:15 p.m. Saturday – it was on the ground briefly.
  • The second tornado hit Canton in Van Zandt County around 5:10 p.m. – it, too, was on the ground briefly.  
  • The third tornado hit at 5:29 p.m. and stayed on the ground for about 40 minutes. It started around Eustace in Henderson County and traveled north into Van Zandt County, to the west of Canton.
  • The fourth tornado also started near Eustace and traveled north into Van Zandt County, to the west of Canton. It was on the ground from 5:41 p.m. until just after 6 p.m.
  • The fifth tornado had the longest track, traveling for an hour and 20 minutes from south of Canton to northeast of Emory.
  • The sixth tornado happened around 5:30 p.m. south of Cumby and traveled northwest for 20 minutes.
  • The seventh tornado was brief and happened around 7:13 p.m. 

Scenes from the storms

Video from local television stations showed uprooted trees and overturned cars along rural, wet roadways, along with at least two flattened homes. The tornado flipped pickup trucks at a Dodge dealership in Canton and tore through the business.“There’s a tornado crossing the road right in front of us,” Logan Doughty said in a video he posted on Twitter. He pulled off to the side of the road as video showed a large, dark tornado. “This is insane.”

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A tree split in half from the storms in Van Zandt County.
Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
A tree split in half from the storms in Van Zandt County.

Paige Redding and David Milbauer go through their units at My Storage Place in Canton.
Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
Paige Redding and David Milbauer go through their units at My Storage Place in Canton.

A downed utility poll outside Canton in Van Zandt County.
Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
A downed utility poll outside Canton in Van Zandt County.

Associated Press