Search and rescue operations begin after deadly Texas tornadoes

The Cash America building in Fort Worth, Texas, was hit by a tornado on Tuesday  

March 29, 2000
Web posted at: 5:45 a.m. EST (1045 GMT)

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Emergency officials are assessing damage and injuries, and beginning to clean up after two tornadoes slammed into the downtown area, leaving at least two people dead and at least 50 people injured.

Mayor Kenneth Barr expressed doubt about whether the downtown district would reopen for business Wednesday.

"I would urge companies in the downtown area if at all possible to hold off on bringing people in, to fully access what the situation is. We don't want anyone else to get hurt," Barr said.

Members of the Texas Urban Search and Rescue Team based in College Station, Texas, were expected to arrive early Wednesday morning to help search for any victims trapped inside damaged buildings and underneath debris, a Fort Worth Police spokesman said.

Fire Department Lt. Kent Worley told CNN that police had confirmed two deaths on the west side of the city where the twisters first touched down Tuesday evening. Two other people died in heavy flooding in the eastern portion of the county.

He said the main swath of destruction started just west of the city and cut "right through the heart of downtown."

'It's just been blown apart'

"It's just been blown apart," Worley said. "You've got buildings with all their windows blown out. You've got curtains blowing in the wind. You've got insulation from ceilings all over the streets."

He said between 50 and 100 people were believed injured from flying glass and debris all along the tornadoes' path.

 
The manager of an art gallery in Fort Worth views tornado damage from her broken store window  

"It's mostly walking wounded, but nothing that looks life-threatening," Worley said.

At one point, rescue units were looking for six people in the Trinity River on the city's east side, Worley said. "Whether they were in a car or not I don't know," and there was no final word on whether they were rescued.

The tornadoes shattered windows in skyscrapers, flattened stores, overturned vehicles and littered streets with glass and debris.

Just a block away from one of the tornadoes' paths, the 35-story Bank One Tower suffered extensive damage. Nearly every floor of the eight-story Cash America International Building, which houses offices of the FBI and Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, incurred blown out windows and exposed stairwells.

The manager of a popular restaurant on the top floor of the building said his business was destroyed.

'Imagine a large bomb going off'

"Imagine a large bomb going off," he said. "It got pretty hectic in here. We were doing some major yelling to get people out of there."

Patrons and employees had to evacuate down 35 flights of stairs to safety, he said.

At the downtown Renaissance Worthington Hotel, windows were broken out in about 12 guest rooms and in the public area, manager Bob Jameson said. The roofs of other buildings were torn off, trees were uprooted, power and telephone lines were downed and traffic signals were rendered useless.

After the dust had cleared, the city's mayor and municipal department heads met late Tuesday night to assess damage and deploy emergency teams, a police spokesman said.

In response to scattered reports of arrests for looting, police began evacuating the downtown area, and then started searching damaged buildings for trapped victims.

An image of the tornado shortly after formation in Fort Worth  

Storm also hit Arlington

After raking across Fort Worth, the storm system moved on to Arlington, Texas, where a tornado came within a quarter mile of the local airport. There, winds gusted up to 70 miles an hour, overturning small airplanes.

"There was a pretty big tornado coming toward us," said Richard Stout, an airport operations supervisor. "I've never seen anything like it."

Arlington was hit with flash flooding that trapped motorists in their cars. Eve Gray, a city emergency spokeswoman, urged residents to stay indoors and off the roads. "If they're at home now they need to stay there," she said, late Tuesday.

The Path of the Storm