Witness describes house-rattling 'roar'
'We noticed a big chunk go over'
PALESTINE, Texas (CNN) -- Bob Multer was beginning a quiet Saturday morning when a "wide band" of debris and a "loud and intense roar" ripped through the clear winter sky over East Texas.
Multer said he heard a tornado-like sound that "shook the house for a good minute" about 8 a.m. (9 a.m. EST), when the space shuttle Columbia, rocketing towards a Florida landing at 12,500 miles an hour, broke apart about 200,000 feet above the Earth.
"We saw the spiral in the sky," Multer said, describing the flying debris. "It was a wide wave as it was moving. It was not in a straight line."
Multer said he wasn't sure what was happening. "I called my wife at work and asked her, did you hear and feel that? She said yes. I said did you see it in the sky? She said no. She said turn on the TV."
Multer and millions of others did turn on the television, and soon learned of the unfolding tragedy. But some Texas residents had been the first to know something was horribly wrong.
"As we seen [Columbia] coming over, we seen a lot of light and it looked like debris and stuff was coming off the shuttle," Kemp, Texas, resident Benjamin Laster told CNN.
"We seen large masses of pieces coming off from the shuttle as it was coming by," Laster said. Then, "the house kind of shook and we noticed a sonic boom ... and then we seen a big continuous puff of vapor or smoke stream come out and then we noticed a big chunk go over."
Police in Nacogdoches, Texas, reported "numerous pieces of debris" in the city. "We want people to stay away, because some of it could be toxic," Detective Greg Sowell said.
Sowell said officers and city and county employees were being dispatched to stand by the debris until the arrival of FBI and NASA representatives. "I imagine the debris field can stretch many miles," Sowell added.
Residents as far east as Shreveport, Louisiana, reported seeing and feeling an explosion.
Jim Hubbs of New Boston, Texas, said he heard police discussing over a police scanner "a smoking object going southeast" that disappeared in the Bowie County area near the Arkansas state line.
Amy Townsend of Carthage, Texas, said a loud boom shook her house. She said two or three loud noises followed, lasting about a minute, and that she saw a cloud of smoke outside her house.
Don Farmer of Lufkin, outside of Dallas, said he heard loud noises that lasted for 10 to 15 seconds. The noise sounded like dynamite exploding, and he thought it was an aircraft breaking the sound barrier, he said.
Bowie County Sheriff's office dispatcher Jodine Langford said dozens of people, including several officers, reported seeing "a ball of fire."
"They saw it go out and then break into pieces," she said.
In Longview, Texas, Sgt. Mike Bishop said initial calls indicated a "plane on fire."