POSTED: Saturday, May 18, 2013 - 10:12am
UPDATED: Saturday, May 18, 2013 - 12:47pm
CNN — Tina and Billy Clark saw the funnel cloud approaching and did what many of their neighbors did.
"We just ran and hid in the closet," Tina Clark told CNN after one of a swarm of tornadoes descended Wednesday night into their neighborhood in Hood County, 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth, Texas.
"I was holding the door shut," Billy Clark told CNN. "You could feel the pressure from inside the house. It was like pulling on the door a little bit. The whole house was shaking really bad. It felt like the house was getting ripped apart, but we couldn't see anything from inside the closet, so we didn't know what exactly was going on."
"You could just hear stuff hitting the house," his wife said.
Once the storm had passed, they emerged from the closet and noted that their house, perhaps because of its location on a slope, had escaped the brunt of the storm.
It was only after they got into their truck and began driving to get out of the impact zone that they began to realize that others had not fared so well.
"Once we turned the corner and got up the street a little bit, I mean, just everything was destroyed," said Billy Clark.
They came upon neighbors who asked them for a ride to a hospital. "So we started loading them up," Tina Clark said.
Among their passengers were two girls. "They couldn't even walk, they were just covered in blood," she said.
The couple then came upon a woman and her son. "They said that the wall got ripped off from the tornado and they got sucked out of the house," Billy Clark said. "The mom, it threw her into a tree head first and busted her head open."
"I thought that lady was gonna die in my truck," Tina Clark said.
"The son, he went outside to go get her during the tornado, and then it pulled him out of the house. He said it threw him through a field and he cut his head on a piece of sheet metal."
They picked up several other children, too. "The one little girl, all her teeth were knocked out," Billy Clark said. "And then the other girl, she had bones sticking out of her legs, she had a big gash in her arm."
The couple soon found the road blocked by downed trees and power lines. "There was no way out, so we took them back to the house and called the ambulance, and they just told us to wait," Tina Clark said.
Instead, they got back into the truck and drove their injured passengers as far as they could, then continued on foot. "We just had to carry them to the paramedics because they couldn't get to us," Tina Clark said.
Three people were taken to a nearby hospital, and 13 others were taken to hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, authorities have said.
Some of the patients underwent amputations, said Dr. Kerri Sistrunk, head of the trauma unit at Lake Granbury Medical Center.
By Friday afternoon, all seven people who had been reported missing had been found, police said.
But many more were homeless; 31 people slept in a shelter Thursday night.
"What always amazes me on visits like this is how fast lives can totally change," Gov. Rick Perry said Friday after touring Granbury.
Neighborhood hit hard
The devastation from what the National Weather Service said were at least 16 tornadoes that killed six people was centered in the Clarks' neighborhood of Rancho Brazos.
Of the 110 houses that had stood there Wednesday afternoon, "there's very few left untouched," said Mario Flores, director of disaster-response field operations for Habitat for Humanity, which built 61 homes in the neighborhood.
"Fifty-eight had damage, from minor to total destruction," Flores said. "It's a scene of total devastation."
"When you look down to where all the rest of the houses normally are, there's nothing there," Daniel Layne told CNN affiliate KTRK. "Piled-up cars, cars in trees, there's a car in our water tower."
He and his wife, Amanda, had waited two years to move into one of the Habitat homes.
"There literally is no Rancho Brazos anymore," Amanda Layne said.
Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds is no stranger to destruction. "I've seen bad," he said. "But this is about as bad as it gets."
A survey team for the National Weather Service concluded that the tornado that descended on this neighborhood was an EF4 -- the second-most severe classification on a scale of zero to five.
For some, the extent of their loss remains unclear.
Families have not been able to return to their homes in Rancho Brazos since the storms rolled through. Deeds said Friday that "hopefully" they'll be able to go in at 8 a.m. Saturday, adding that authorities plan only to "open things back up on a limited basis." A curfew applies from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Ronna Cotten is one of those who haven't been gone back, having been warned it would be days before she couldn't re-enter her subdivision to "check to see if we have any belongings left."
She has stayed in the home of a woman who picked her up from a rescue center Wednesday night.
The mother of four said she survived by clutching to a doorknob as winds tore through her home.
"I feel very lucky, because we are alive," she said.