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“This is pretty devastating”: Three dead, more than 100 injured after tornado strikes Perryton

By Alejandro Serrano, The Texas Tribune

“This is pretty devastating”: Three dead, more than 100 injured after tornado strikes Perryton” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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At least three people in Perryton, a town of about 8,100 people in the Panhandle, died when a tornado hit the city Thursday afternoon in a storm that wounded more than 100 other people, Ochiltree County Sheriff Terry Bouchard told local media Friday morning as officials sifted through debris left by the tornado that caught the community by surprise.

Three people who had previously been reported missing were found.

The extent of damage was not immediately clear as officials from various agencies said they were beginning to survey the area, but images posted on social media by local reporters showed cars with shattered windows, leveled buildings and downed trees. A lot of businesses and trailers were destroyed, Bouchard said. A fire station was struck by the tornado, and ambulances were damaged enough to likely not be able to get on highways, he added, noting public safety agencies and first responders from other cities and towns were helping.

“We’re going to need a lot of support from everyone,” Bouchard told reporters Friday morning. “This is pretty devastating. We lost — I can’t tell you how many homes. It’s going to take us a while.”

Perryton Fire Chief Paul Dutcher said the between 150 and 200 homes were destroyed by the storm. Dutcher told NBC’s “Today” show that the storm “completely wiped out” the two and a half blocks of the downtown area.

Officials from the local utility, Xcel Energy, said in a statement the city was without power Thursday night because facilities were de-energized for safety purposes. As of Friday evening, almost 70% of Ochiltree County was without power. Across Texas over 180,000 customers were without electricity, the majority of the outages were in northeastern part of the state where storms earlier in the week caused extensive damage.

Transmission lines supplying the city with electricity have sustained damage and many lower voltage distribution lines are down in the city,” utility officials said. “Xcel Energy personnel are working to ensure the safety of Perryton residents and first responders. An estimated time of restoration is not yet available.”

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday night directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to send road workers, saw crews and an emergency medical task force, among other resources.

“I encourage all Texans to heed the guidance of state and local officials and to take all necessary precautions to protect yourselves and your loved ones,” Abbott said in a statement. “We remain ready to quickly provide any additional resources needed over the course of this severe weather event.”

On Friday, Abbott issued a disaster declaration for Ochiltree and Cass counties, which he said would streamline the state’s ability to help local officials recover and rebuild their communities. A tornado hit Cass County, in East Texas, on Wednesday causing damage to homes and injuring one, according to KSLA.

“Our hearts remain with the people of Perryton and all Texans impacted by last night’s devastating tornadoes in the Panhandle,” Abbott said in a disaster declaration statement.

William Melhado contributed reporting.

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