FIERCE storms topple homes

Monday, May 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Funnel clouds churned their way across North Texas on Sunday night as strong winds and thunderstorms pummeled the area, destroying at least six Far North Dallas townhomes under construction but causing no injuries.

Richard Michael Pruitt / DMN
A man looks at several Far North Dallas condominium units which collapsed Sunday night. The units were under construction, and no one was injured.

The storm cell crawled into the Dallas-Fort Worth area from West Texas by late afternoon, then raced into Richardson, Rowlett and Rockwall by 7 p.m., powered by 40 to 50 mph winds. It brought up to 3 inches of rain and softball-size hail in Plano.

The cell followed a "dry line" – where moist and dry air collide, causing thunderstorms – that stretched from west of Gage, Okla., to Childress, Texas, and then moved east to Dallas.

One tornado was reported in Bell County, near Killeen, but there were no reports of injuries.

Tornado spotters in North Dallas, Garland and Plano watched several circular formations about 600 to 800 feet in the sky – precursors to a tornado – but none touched down.

"You have to have it hit the ground for it to be a tornado," said Jesse Moore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "It's scary, but it's not a tornado."

Scattered power outages were reported across North Texas, with most coming from Carrollton, The Colony, Plano and Frisco, TXU Electric and Gas spokeswoman Normalinda Gonzalez said.

It was unclear Sunday night how many homes were without power, but repair crews were dispatched.

The fierce winds toppled the six townhomes at the Frankford Lakes development in the 6000 block of Frankford Road, near Preston Road in Far North Dallas, as the storm system picked up steam and raced towards East Texas.

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The two-story building began collapsing about 8 p.m. Sunday because of intense winds, police said.

"The first third came down during the storm, then the second third came down, and now we're just waiting on the last third to come down," said Dallas police Sgt. Jim Almy. "The big issue is the damage to the structure."

Fire crews were working with utility companies to shut off gas, electricity and water to the building, but Sgt. Almy said officials were unsure whether there were any gas leaks.

City officials contacted the property owners Sunday night. The area will remain barricaded Monday morning as the property owners assess the damage, Sgt. Almy said.

The weather-related destruction of the homes came two days after a tornado with 110 mph winds touched down in central Mansfield about 9:45 p.m. Friday, heavily damaging about six homes and three commercial buildings.

Juan Garcia / DMN
Sunday's strong winds toppled this gas station awning at Shiloh Road and Walnut Street in Garland.

About 30 homes were moderately damaged, and about 70 suffered minor damage such as torn shingles. Sixty-one homes in Grand Prairie were also damaged Friday night by straight-line winds, officials said.

The Sunday night system prompted the National Weather Service to issue a tornado warning at 8:44 p.m., minutes before an unconfirmed tornado reportedly touched the ground in Forney, 30 miles east in Kaufman County.

"We can't confirm anything," said Mike Veschio, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, referring to the possible Forney hit. "We'll have a look [Monday] to see."

Authorities in Rockwall and Kaufman counties said weather-related damage near Rockwall and Terrell appeared to be minor, but they added that police were still assessing the situation late Sunday night.

Staff writers Reese Dunklin and Holly Warren contributed to this report.