SALADO, Texas (KXAN) — A powerful tornado damaged at least 63 buildings in the area near Salado, a community located less than 10 miles north of Jarrell, officials told KXAN.
The tornado was spotted a little after 5:30 p.m. Tuesday moving between Florence and Salado. Those communities were most affected by storm damage.
Officials with the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety said there’s a lot of debris and power lines down on FM 2843 between Salado and Florence. The road is closed off, with only local traffic being allowed through.
During a press conference on Wednesday morning, Bell County Judge David Blackburn said 23 people were injured, and 12 went to the hospital. He said Wednesday afternoon at least one person had critical injuries.
Blackburn said the tornado’s path was about eight miles long and a quarter-mile wide. The National Weather Service is in the area to assess damage.
At least 638 customers remain without power Wednesday afternoon, and Blackburn said there is “no good estimate” when electricity will be restored because of the extent of the damage to infrastructure.
Blackburn asked anyone impacted by the storm and needs assistance to call (254) 534-4562. He said workers will field calls between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the exception of Good Friday.
Additionally, people who would like to donate to storm relief efforts should call (254) 534-2217.
Officials said well-built, ranch-style homes were heavily damaged or destroyed.
“If we have to stay out here all night, we’re not going to stop until everybody’s accounted for and everybody is safe, and then we’re going to definitely — the ones that have lost their homes, or they’re not structurally sound, we’re going to find a place to put them,” said Sgt. Bryan Washko with Texas Highway Patrol.
KXAN’s Jim Spencer said the city of Salado was very lucky Tuesday evening, as the tornado was headed straight for the town, but turned to the north, staying west of the community. The First Warning Weather team predicts the tornado could be of EF-2 or EF-3 strength.
Folks in the Hidden Springs subdivision, while not impacted by the tornado, were pounded by baseball-sized hail.
KXAN’s Tahera Rahman was off of FM 2843 and Cedar Valley Road, where neighbors said the area was “wiped off the map” from the tornado.
Law enforcement personnel from Temple, Killeen and Williamson County blocked off a side of FM 2843 where glimpses of destroyed homes could be seen. They said they were also trying to contain a gas leak.
One homeowner in Florence said he was inside his home when he saw giant pieces of tin fly across his land and the tornado funnel.
“I was in my living room, saw a dust storm outside, I heard the wind, stuff hitting the windows, and I saw a large piece of tin go across the pasture,” recalled Zach Liveris. “It’s a little overwhelming.”
He said his home didn’t sustain as much damage as his neighbor’s, where you could see the walls blown out, showing a burgundy couch inside and insulation stuck in branches.
Liveris said he’s glad everyone is safe.
“It was so dusty outside, I couldn’t even see the trees and the pasture from the house. It was just very intense winds,” Liveris said.