POLK COUNTY, Texas — A killer tornado ripped through the lakefront community of Onalaska Wednesday night, leaving a trail of destruction that stretched for miles. By morning, Polk County officials reported three deaths, dozens of injuries, and the devastation of multiple neighborhoods.
Breitbart Texas captured images and video of destroyed homes, rescue operations, and families coming to grips with their losses. As emergency responders began pouring into the area, word spread about people being trapped, injured, missing pets, and other medical emergencies.
As a family struggled to gather their scattered belongings, a young boy is standing in the window of one of the few remaining rooms. The tornado ripped the home apart.
Other families gathered outside their damaged homes trying to pick up the pieces. Friends and neighbors rushed to the scene trying to find their loved ones and lend support.
Moments earlier, Julie Black shot a cell phone video of the scene as she tried to calm her son. In a post on Facebook, Black said, “I lived a true living nightmare this evening. Drake and I made it to the bathtub about 5 seconds before the roof was ripped off and I heard windows busting. I literally laid in the tub over my screaming son and looked up to a scary view. All I could do was pray.”
“A tornado warning went into effect at approximately 5:45 p.m. At 6:11, we began receiving reports of storm-related damage,” Polk County Emergency Management officials said in a written statement. “The hardest-hit area was Onalaska in the subdivisions of Yaupon Cove, Texas Acres, Canyon Park, Tree Farm Tracks, Kickapoo Estate, Triple Creek, Rocky Creek, Pine Harbor, Paradise Acres 1, 2 & 3, and Creekside.”
A few minutes later, the man below had his life turned upside down as the tornado overturned his trailer.
First responders set up a field triage location to treat victims with minor, and sometimes not so minor, injuries.
Onalaska Mayor Chip Choate told Breitbart Texas, “We are a small community with limited resources. The actions of the tornado are going to be devastating to the overall community.”
The mayor said Fire Chief Jay Stutts worked through the night organizing rescue operations. He confirmed at least three people lost their lives in the storm and dozens more were injured.
Local hairstylist Amber Stash Jennings expressed her gratitude that her family who lives in the path of the deadly storm remained safe. “My family is all OK thank GOD!!” Jennings wrote on Facebook. “My parents and sisters live less than 1/4 mile from me and they have a mess.”
Police, firefighters, ambulance workers, and volunteer rescuers maneuvered around downed power lines and trees felled by the tornado to begin rescue operations.
Other residents began to emerge from their damaged homes to see what happened outside.
Breitbart Texas witnessed the rescue of one high school teen who became trapped in his home when a massive tree fell during the tornado. The tree pinned the young man to the floor as it fell on his feet and lower legs. Onalaska Volunteer Fire Department rescue crews avoided further injury by cutting the floor beneath him — freeing his legs so they could safely extricate him from the home.Bob Price / Breitbart News
Newly constructed homes were not spared the devastating winds of what Polk County officials described as a possible F4 tornado. The Fujita Scale classifies an F4 tornado as having winds of 207-260 mph.
Falling trees pulled down primary power-distribution lines depriving nearly 4,500 Onalaska-area families of electricity, according to figures reported by the Sam Houston Electric Cooperative.
Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Price is a regular panelist on Fox 26 Houston’s What’s Your Point? Sunday-morning talk show. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Face
Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart News. She is a trial lawyer who previously served as a prosecutor and family court associate judge in Texas. Shadwick can be reached at Lana@LanaShadwick.com.