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Tornadoes kill 16 in Texas

May 28, 1997

JARRELL, Texas (AP) _ Violent storms ripped through four central Texas counties from Waco to Austin on Tuesday, tossing cars, leveling an entire subdivision and leaving at least 16 people dead and scores injured.

A tornado killed 14 people in Jarrell, a small town 40 miles north of Austin, where all 20 homes in the Double Creeks Estate were destroyed.

``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.″

Bits of clothing hung from barbed-wire fences and a tractor-trailer lay on its back in the middle of a field. Hearses trickled in Tuesday evening as rescue workers began retrieving bodies. Three of the town’s residents were hospitalized in critical condition.

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, city spokesman Carlos Cordova said.

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.″

Interstate 35, the main north-south freeway in Central Texas, was closed around Jarrell.

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, 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 two 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, but no injuries were confirmed.

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.″

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