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North Texas Cleaning Up After Damaging Tornadoes

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - North Texas is reeling on Wednesday morning after tornadoes hit at least nine cities across five counties. The mayors of both Arlington and Lancaster have declared a state of disaster after hundreds of homes were destroyed and about 10,000 people were left without power.

The first Tornado Warning was issued at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday afternoon in Johnson County and Tarrant County. That twister caused damage to four homes near Joshua, hurdling debris the length of a football field. Then, just 11 minutes later, a Tornado Warning was issued for Dallas County and Ellis County. The final tornado was reported at 3:35 p.m. in Rockwall County. (Click here to follow a timeline of the tornadoes.) When the storms finally cleared, the National Weather Service said that as many as 12 twisters touched down across the area. The exact number of tornadoes will not be known until later, after surveyors can check out all of the widespread damage.

The American Red Cross estimates about 650 homes damaged — or destroyed entirely — across North Texas. The most recent numbers from Oncor report that 6,300 customers are still without electricity, as crews continue to work on restoring power to various parts of the region.

One of the areas hit hardest by the storms was Lancaster, in southern Dallas County. A tornado struck there at about 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Many residents are waking up on Wednesday in temporary shelters after the twister damaged about 300 structures — roofs are gone, windows have been shattered, trees have been knocked down and debris remains scattered across the ground. Cars were literally tossed into homes, where they remain on Wednesday morning. Multiple injuries were reported, but no deaths. The survivors will now start digging through rubble to find whatever is left of their belongings.

“Amazing that we’re still living,” said one Lancaster resident. “It looks like a disaster area. It felt like Iraq, Baghdad… indescribable.”

“I guess ‘shock’ is probably a good word,” said Lancaster Mayor Marcus Knight. Lancaster was also hit by a major tornado back in 1994. Click here to see that story.

Storms pushed down fences and toppled trees all across Dallas County. Branches were scattered across lawns and residential streets. Vehicles, even big rigs, were tossed around like they were toys. “Obviously we’re going to have a lot of assessments to make when this is done,” said Dallas County spokeswoman Maria Arita.

>> Check Out Photos Of The Storm Damage <<

Forney was hit hard by two separate tornadoes that moved through Kaufman County. More than six people are recovering from injuries, and entire neighborhoods have been reduced to almost nothing. A total of 73 homes were damaged in some way, with 22 of those cases being severe. Crosby Elementary School in the Forney Independent School District was damaged by one of the tornadoes, and is expected to be closed until next week. Other schools in the district, however, plan to remain open.

Forney Mayor Darren Rozzel credits his city’s disaster preparations with keeping people safe during the storm. “You see everything this bad and you know that everybody that woke up yesterday in Forney, Texas is still alive today — that’s amazing. So, we’re thankful for what we do have,” Rozzel said. “I’m really pleased with our staff and the way they responded.”

Meanwhile, in Tarrant County, about 150 homes were damaged by a tornado in Arlington, as well as a nursing home. Physical therapist Patti Gilroy said that she saw the swirling mass barreling down on the Green Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after herding patients into safe areas. “It wasn’t like a freight train, like everybody says it is,” Gilroy said. “It sounded like a bomb hit. And we hit the floor, and everybody was praying. It was shocking.” An entire wing of the nursing home crumbled and two residents were hospitalized with minor injuries.

“It’s bad,” said Arlington resident Denise Williams. “Sticks all in the yard, and debris, and roofing — all in the yard.”

Arlington resident Sandy Cooper was walking around her neighborhood on Tuesday evening, collecting photographs on the ground — but she did not know the people in those pictures. “I’m gathering memories of people who may not be able to find them,” she explained. The faces in the photos may mean nothing to her, but could mean everything to somebody. And it might be all that they have left. “This is an old one from 1956. Wedding picture here. Somebody is going to enjoy seeing that.” Click here to watch more of Cooper’s story.

Tornadoes were also reported in Cleburne, Kennedale, Royse City, DeSoto and Mesquite. (Click here to read more about the damage.) The storms hit North Texas just the usual peak of tornado season was kicking off. April is typically the worst month in a frame that lasts from March to June. Matt Bishop with the National Weather Service said that Tuesday’s event suggests that “we’re on pace to be above normal.”

>> See How Airports Were Impacted By The Storms <<

Southwestern Insurance Information Service in Austin is predicting that the storms will generate millions of dollars in storm claims. “We’re sure it’s going to be in the tens of millions of dollars,” said company president Sandra Helin. “Insurance companies are sending in adjusters from across the country to handle all of the claims expected.”

Many people will need help recovering from the devastation. CBSDFW.COM is partnering with the American Red Cross on Wednesday afternoon to help raise money to aid in disaster relief — providing food, shelter, clothing and supplies to those impacted by the severe storms. CBS 11 News and CBS Radio will be holding a phone bank during newscasts, with volunteers ready to accept donations from viewers. Click here for more information about how you can help.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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