HOUSTON — A tornado swept through a southeast Texas shopping district without warning Tuesday, collapsing a department store roof, overturning vehicles and leaving several people in stores and parking lots with minor injuries, authorities said.
No serious injuries were reported, said Beaumont Police Officer Crystal Holmes, though one man went into cardiac arrest after the tornado touched down about 2 p.m. in Beaumont, about 87 miles east of Houston. Holmes said there was no word on the man’s condition.
Holmes said the tornado hit a Kohl’s Department Store collapsing its roof skipped over a Wal-Mart and continued on to Parkdale Mall, leaving a trail of destruction about a half-mile long.
Nearby Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital treated fewer than 10 people for lacerations and abrasions, said hospital spokeswoman Jacquelynn Conger.
“We were all busy working when power went out,” said Judy Slate, of Honey Island, who was working at a Lowes home improvement store across the highway from Kohl’s. “It was raining really hard and wind really blowing. There was a lot of debris flying around.”
Bricks on exterior store walls were torn away, cars and trucks were flipped onto each other and parking lot cart corrals were bent and twisted.
“It was very fast,” said Lowes store manager Warren Ellender.
National Weather Service science and operations officer Felix Navejar in Louisiana said forecasters hadn’t expected a tornado because the storms moving through the area were relatively weak and there was little circulation to cause a funnel.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation right now because this is really rare,” Navejar said, adding investigators were en route to Beaumont.
Police sealed off the shopping area’s parking lots and asked residents to stay away. Beaumont Fire Capt. Earl White said his department assessed damage while energy companies checked minor gas leaks and repaired power lines.
“We were very, very fortunate. There was no early warning, but we didn’t sustain any major injuries,” White said. “The tornado swiped through the parking lot … It was over in less than two minutes.”
Slate, the Lowes worker, said she’d been through two tornadoes in Ohio and wasn’t bothered by the stormy weather.
“It’s something we don’t have control over,” she said.
Associated Press Writer Monica Rhor contributed to this report.