Residents in southeastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas began assessing weather damage Saturday, working to recover and thankful to have survived after a storm spanning from Dallas to northwest Arkansas spawned tornadoes and flash flooding, killing one, injuring others, and destroying homes and buildings.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt visited Idabel to inspect the damage. On social media, he claimed that all of the homes had been searched and that a 90-year-old man had been killed. The man’s body was discovered at his home in the Pickens area of McCurtain County, about 36 miles north of Idabel, according to Keli Cain, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Emergency Management.
A 6-year-old girl drowned and a 43-year-old man went missing after their vehicle was swept by water off a bridge near Stilwell, about 135 miles north of Idabel, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Cain said the drowning was not officially attributed to the storm and will be investigated by the medical examiner.
Stitt declared a state of emergency for McCurtain County, which includes Idabel, as well as neighboring Bryan, Choctaw, and LeFlore counties, on Saturday afternoon.
The declaration is an important step toward qualifying for federal assistance and funding, and it allows state agencies to make disaster-recovery-related purchases without regard for bidding requirements.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated that damage assessments and recovery efforts are underway in northeast Texas and urged residents to report damage to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
“I’ve deployed all available resources to assist with response and recovery,” Abbott said in a statement. “I appreciate the quick response of all of our hardworking state and local emergency management personnel.”
According to National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Darby in Tulsa, the massive storm dumped 4 inches of rain in the Stilwell area at the time.
Cain said that Idabel, a rural town of about 7,000 people in the Ouachita Mountains’ foothills, suffered extensive damage. “There are well over 100 homes and businesses that have sustained minor damage to total destruction,” Cain said.
According to Pastor Don Myer, Trinity Baptist Church in Idabel was preparing to finish a new building when the storm ripped apart their sanctuary and flattened the shell of the new structure next door.
Myer told The Associated Press that the 250-member congregation would vote after the Sunday service on whether to proceed with the final work to complete the building.
“But we didn’t get there. Every vote counts, and one vote trumped us all “Myer, 67, stated “We were on the verge of doing so. That was how close we came.”
Myer stated that the congregation will pray about what happened, determine how much their insurance covers, and work to rebuild. On Saturday morning, a few church members raised an American flag that had been blown over by the storm and placed it among the wreckage of the original church building.
Shelbie Villalpando, 27, of Powderly, Texas, said she was eating dinner with her family on Friday when tornado sirens forced them to gather first in their rented home’s hallways, then in the bathtub with her children, ages 5, 10, and 14.
“Within two minutes of getting them in the tub, we had to lay over the kids because everything went crazy,” Villalpando explained.
“I’ve never been so scared,” she admitted. “I could hear glass breaking and things shattering around me, but every time I came out of the bathroom, my heart and stomach sank because I have children and it could have been much worse. What if our bathroom had collapsed along with the rest of the house? We wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Terimaine Davis and his son were huddled in the bathtub until the tornado ripped through on Friday, destroying their Powderly home and reducing it to a roofless, sagging heap.
Davis, 33, told The Associated Press, “We left like five minutes before the tornado actually hit.” “My son and I were in the tub in the house, and that was about the only thing left standing.”