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At least four people are dead and nine are injured after a tornado hit Matador, a small town of nearly 800 people northeast of Lubbock, late Wednesday night.
The tornado was brought on by several severe storms in the region. A video from a local storm chaser showed significant damage to the small town in the Texas Rolling Plains. Matador Mayor Pat Smith told CBS News that crews were digging people out of rubble in the aftermath — and carried some bodies away.
The tornado struck around 8 p.m., which made it difficult to immediately assess the full extent of the damage. When first responders arrived on the scene, three people were dead and seven of the 10 injured people were transported to Lubbock hospitals by EMS. One of the injured died at the hospital.
Nicki Dempsey was heading home with her daughter when she noticed how dark the sky was to the north of their house. She thought it was hail or rain, since she didn’t see anything on the radar. Then she heard the faint sound of sirens and told her family to get in the basement as quickly as they could.
“It sounded like a freight train was coming into our house,” Dempsey recalled. “I said at one point, ‘There goes the back porch,’ because I could hear it getting ripped off.”
The tornado didn’t stop at her back porch — the roof of the home was torn off, exposing the basement to the storm. Dempsey and her family were standing to the side of the basement, which still had its ceiling from the garage above, but they could see the rain and debris covering the stairs. Dempsey said the whole ordeal took two or three minutes but felt much longer.
“We waited a few minutes until we saw the sky was blue, so we pushed everything to the side as best we could and climbed to the top of the stairs,” Dempsey said. “We had to push the door open to get out because everything from the kitchen had been thrown against the door.”
By the end of the storm, Dempsey’s family lost half of their home. On Thursday, they were digging through the remains, trying to salvage what they could. Their home will have to be torn down, she said, but she’s grateful they’re alive and for all the donations and help flowing into the town. She would like to see more plastic totes donated, though, so families can keep the belongings they have left in a safe place.
Multiple state and local agencies have sent police, fire and EMS resources to Motley County, where Matador is, to help with search and rescue efforts. Derek Delgado, public information officer for Lubbock Fire Rescue, said he has never seen so many agencies working together on one disaster.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration in response to the Matador tornado.
The declaration added Motley as well as Fisher, Jones, Kent, Nolan and Stonewall counties. The addition of the latest five brings a total of 21 Texas counties under a disaster declaration as a result of recent severe weather.
“Matador is a very small town, and it wiped away vehicles, buildings and homes,” Delgado said. “For a town this size, it not only has a physical impact because it just blew away the infrastructure, but the economical impact is something that will be very significant.”
The destruction came less than a week after another deadly tornado struck the Panhandle town of Perryton, killing three people and injuring more than 100 others.
Sgt. Johnny Bures with the Texas Department of Public Safety said people in Matador had just a few minutes to seek shelter. First responders are working on clearing out debris and getting the power back on by the weekend. A substation was destroyed in the tornado, knocking out electricity for the entire town. This is a big concern, as the region has endured sweltering, triple-digit temperatures for several days.
“These folks are rural, so without power, they’re going to have a hard time trying to cool down, especially as they’re trying to collect all their belongings,” Bures said. “So check in with your neighbors, make sure they have utilities they can use so they don’t get sick or worse.”
Delgado said the tornado appears to have hit the west side of town and barreled through to the south side. Texas A&M Task Force 1 is conducting secondary searches of the town and will later assess the damage.
“The Texas Task Force is there making sure that we’ve cleared every piece that we can to make sure that we didn’t have anybody left behind,” Bures said. “So today, we’re making sure that we clear all that first, before we really get down to moving all the broken pieces away and get to rebuilding.”
According to the National Weather Service in Lubbock, the storms in nearby towns such as Jayton had wind gusts of 100 miles per hour and softball-size hail. Jayton, about 62 miles south of Matador, was also under a tornado warning Wednesday night.
Annette Hollinsworth lives in nearby Roaring Springs and owns New To You, a consignment store, in Matador. Since her business was still standing, she was offering clothes to anyone in Matador that needs them. She’s relieved to see the outpouring of help and donations to the community.
“There’s been people from out of town come in and help clear away the damage or however they’re needed,” Hollinsworth said.
There has been extensive damage to the town, including leveled homes, destroyed gas stations and half of Billie Dean's Restaurant, one of the few restaurants in town. By Thursday afternoon, DPS troopers closed off public access to the town.
Hollinsworth said Matador has had so many supplies donated that it needs money to recover now. The Community Foundation of West Texas has created a relief fund for survivors of the Matador tornado. Donations can also be made through any Happy State Bank branch. Those who donate must state it is for the Matador relief fund.
For the people impacted by the tornado in Matador, a cooling center has been opened at the Motley County Senior Citizens Building.
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