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One killed as tornado hits south Texas, damaging dozens of homes

LAGUNA HEIGHTS, TEXAS (AP) – One person was killed and a curfew was imposed after a powerful tornado tore through a community near the southern tip of Texas before dawn on Saturday, damaging dozens of residences and knocking down power lines, authorities said.

At least 10 others were hospitalised, including two people who were listed in critical condition, said emergency management coordinator for Cameron County Tom Hushen. Many residents also suffered cuts and bruises.

A nighttime curfew for those 17 and under was issued by Cameron County judge Eddie Treviño Jr and is expected to end May 16 to “mitigate the effects of this public health and safety emergency”.

The order also forbids non-residents of Laguna Heights from entering its residential areas.

The tornado hit at about 4am as most people were in their homes asleep in the unincorporated community of Laguna Heights, located on the mainland across from South Padre Island, off the Gulf of Mexico. The county has among the highest poverty rates in Texas and is dotted with substandard housing. There was no advance warning.

Instead, the first warning of a tornado “went out at the same time it was touching ground”, said warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Brownsville Barry Goldsmith.

A person stands outside of a damaged home after a tornado hit the unincorporated community of Laguna Heights, Texas. PHOTO: AP

“With hurricanes we have the benefit of getting some advance warning; we know it’s probably on its way,” Treviño said during a Saturday press conference. “With a tornado, like Barry mentioned, it’s not a common scenario unless we have a hurricane or tropical cyclone in the area. So, we didn’t have the benefit of a warning.”

“The hour didn’t help,” Treviño added.

Roberto Flores, 42, died after being “basically crushed as a result of the damage to his mobile home”, Treviño said.

The storm was clocked with wind speeds of 138 to 177 kilometres per hour and was categorised as an EF1 tornado, according to the weather service. It lasted only about two to four minutes but it ravaged the area.

As many as 60 homes were damaged. The county judge signed a disaster declaration, and a temporary shelter in the nearby city of Port Isabel was providing help to 38 people.

“Apparently it went straight through that community,” said county sheriff Eric Garza.

“Individuals don’t want to leave their houses because they’re afraid that somebody will go in there and start stealing stuff.”

Garza said his department is helping provide security for the area.

Laguna Heights is about 32 kilometres northeast of the United States-Mexico border at Brownsville and is not prone to having tornados, although this spring has been active, said weather service meteorologist Angelica Soria. The area is also gearing up for the start of hurricane season.

The Texas tornado follows an outbreak of dozens of twisters in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado that caused damage but no reported deaths.

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