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Tornadoes rip Texas; 30 die // Central Texas towns hit from Waco to Austin

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Violent storms ripped through four central Texas counties from Waco to Austin on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people and injuring scores, leveling a subdivision and tossing cars.

The hardest hit seemed to be Jarrell, a small town 40 miles north of Austin, where a tornado killed at least 28 people and destroyed 50 to 70 homes in the Double Creeks Estate.

"It's not there anymore," said sheriff's Deputy R. B. Raby. "I don't know of anything anyone can do. It's just a flat, vacant field."

A temporary morgue was set up at a volunteer fire department and rescue workers planned to search for survivors throughout the night.

Bits of clothing hung from barbed-wire fences and a semitrailer truck was overturned in a field. Local radio stations reported that more than 300 homes were destroyed.

Stunned residents covered in mud wandered around in the rain, crying and consoling each other. Max Johnson, pastor of the Jarrell Baptist Church, worked to comfort frightened children.

"It's hard to know what to say, because right now no one knows who's missing and who's dead," Johnson said. "In a town this small, there's probably not one person who did not know someone killed in this tragedy."

The swath of destruction was about a mile long and 200 yards wide, officials said.

Motorists marooned under an overpass on Interstate 35 told a local radio station they saw the tornado that struck Jarrell split into three funnel clouds before it hit the town.

"It covered the entire sky to the north and sounded like the loudest thing you ever thought you'd hear," one caller said.

In Austin, one person was killed when a tornado destroyed two homes around Lake Travis, and a woman drowned in a creek during a storm, officials said.

The storm struck Austin at rush hour and downed power lines. Traffic was snarled throughout the city by broken street lights, and at least 30,000 people were without power as darkness fell.

The storms began in Bell and McLennan counties, about 60 miles north of Jarrell, about 3:45 p.m. and moved into Williamson County just north of Austin.

"It was unbelievable," said Thomas Soliz, a Williamson County resident. "You just look up and there it is."

Elsewhere in Williamson County, part of a grocery store's roof was blown off, causing the building to collapse. At least eight people were hurt and one was missing in the rubble, said county spokesman John Sneed.

A fast-food restaurant and a video store nearby also sustained heavy damage.

Outside Wendy's restaurant, people watched the tornado in the parking lot "until the funnel started coming through the sky _ then everyone panicked," said manager Ray Westphal.

"It looked about 2 inches tall at first. Then it started taking up the entire horizon. As it got closer, building tops were flying around," he said. "It was picking cars right up into the air, flinging them everywhere."

In Bell County, a tornado destroyed a marina and at least five boats. Several houses also were reported destroyed.

Jarrell, a town of less than 1,000 people, was largely destroyed by a tornado in 1989 that killed one and injured 28. That storm also severely damaged or destroyed 35 homes and 12 mobile homes.

"This is worse," said Janine Brock, a lifelong resident. "It's going to be awful. They're going to have to bury so many people."

_ Information from the New York Times and Reuters was used in this report.