Official: 2 Killed, 43 Injured in Van After EF-3 Tornado

EF-3 tornado confirmed in Van with wind speeds estimated to peak around 140 mph

Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety say everyone who had been previously reported missing in Van a day after an EF-3 tornado ravaged their small community has been accounted for Monday night.

The tornado that struck the East Texas town Sunday killed two people and injured 43.

Earlier Monday, officials were searching for eight missing people, but DPS Trooper Jean Dark said they had all been located.

However, she said that just to be safe, cadaver dogs were checking the area.

The National Weather Service confirmed Monday afternoon the rating of the tornado that touched down in Van was an EF-3 with top wind speeds of about 140 mph.

Van Zandt County Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator Chuck Allen said the two killed were an adult man and woman who lived south of a mobile home park. Their names have not yet been released.

The deaths of two people in Van bring the total number of people killed by flash flooding and tornadoes in the last week in northern Texas to five.

Texas Game Wardens and their dogs spent sun-up to sun-down searching for possible survivors in the hardest hit areas of Van who may have been trapped beneath flattened homes while others went going door-to-door to see if the missing found shelter elsewhere.

The agency has 10 search and rescue dogs, four of which were sent to Van Monday to assist in the effort.

One crew told NBC 5 they had searched about 50 buildings. Many homes in the neighborhood behind the First Baptist Church in Van bear an orange X, spray painted to show a building has been cleared.

"It's very deliberate work in the sense that we're trying to clear each and every one of these brush piles," said Game Warden John Thorne. "There could be a victim in here that we wouldn't be able to detect without the use of one of these dogs."

Thorne estimated that he helped to clear 75 properties Monday, what amounted to be the first large-scale deployment of the search and rescue dogs since the program’s inception in 2013.

Most of the 43 injured in the storm were transported to hospitals in nearby Tyler after a triage area was established at a church, Allen said in an email early Monday morning. The extent of their injuries was not immediately clear.

The American Red Cross has opened a shelter at First Baptist Church in Van, Allen said, and so far about 50 people have registered.

30 Percent of Van Damaged by Tornado

About 30 percent of the city suffered some kind of damage, according to Allen. The city's population was 2,632 as of the 2010 U.S. Census.

"Damages range from completely destroyed homes, damaged homes, to trees and power lines down," Allen wrote.

Roofs are ripped off, but books left in their place on shelves. Children's toys lie in the mud next to someone's cherished photos. The din of chainsaws is everywhere because everywhere there are huge trees pulled up by their roots or snapped.

Homeowners are trying to salvage what they can and move out.

As the Mayor of Van Dean Stone said, "It's something you never expect ... We just have to stick together."

And that they have done here. Church groups have come out to help people collect their things. Random people on ATVs ride by offering food and water. People who had houses with no damage walk over to help neighbors who have lost everything.

Many here said they have lots to be thankful for. They are alive and it could be much worse.

Dan Dunn, who is the head of the Van Independent School District, said the damage was to brick and mortar, and, "Every bit can be replaced."

An elementary school and intermediate school were in the path of the tornado. They're figuring out what to do with the kids for the last few weeks of school but people here feel blessed no children were in the schools at the time the tornado hit.

"This is something you only see in movies," survivor Alex Lopez said. "it doesn't happen in your hometown. The people you hung out with a few days ago don't have homes anymore. It's really sad to see."

Bryan Shurgot told NBC 5 that his parents were taken to a nearby hospital after their home was destroyed.

"It's just devastating," Shurgot said. "My parents have been living there for 30 years and it's gone in an instant."

Utility companies are working to restore "vital infrastructures," and road and bridge crews are working to open streets and highways to allow for first responder access, he said.

Rescue Groups Caring for Stranded Pets

Pets that have been separated from their families by the EF-3 tornado in Van are being cared for by two different rescue groups.

Nicholas Pet Haven and Circle Star Rescue are taking care of animals lost during the storm, along with other pets that have been surrendered by their owners who don't think they can care for them right now.

For more information, visit the Facebook page Lost And Found Cats And Dogs Of Tyler, TX.

Nicholas Pet Haven has also established a fund to help offset the cost of rescuing animals from Van,

No Fatalities in Denton Tornado

Earlier in the day, another likely tornado ripped roofs off buildings and damaged trees near Denton, about 40 miles northwest of Dallas, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Bradshaw. There were no immediate reports of injuries or fatalities.

The area also experienced torrential rains that led to widespread flash flooding. Authorities in Denton County said Sunday that two groups of people had to be airlifted by helicopters to safety.

NBC 5's Jeff Smith, Ben Russell, Maggie Kerkman, Todd Davis and Frank Heinz contributed to this report, as did reporters for the Associated Press.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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