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Twister tears through northeast Texas, local authorities say

By the CNN Wire Staff
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'We are in the tornado'
  • NEW: A tornado destroys homes and knocks train cars off their track
  • "Significant damage" is reported in Navarro County, Texas
  • A witness says he saw a funnel form and rode out the storm in a restaurant freezer
  • The National Weather Service says a high school was hit

(CNN) -- At least one tornado ripped through northeast Texas Sunday evening, destroying homes, turning over vehicles and knocking train cars off tracks, local authorities said.

A tornado struck Rice Texas at 5:30 p.m., Navarro County Chief Deputy Mike Cox said.

The twister destroyed three homes, damaged at least two more, turned over an 18-wheeler truck onto a passenger car and knocked cars from a freight train off their tracks, he said. It also caused extensive damage to Rice Elementary School.

Four people were transported to the hospital with minor injuries, Cox said.

In addition to "significant damage" from a tornado moving through Navarro County, witnesses have also spotted possible tornados in other parts of northeast Texas, the National Weather Service said.

Betty Montgomery of the Lone Oak Fire Department said callers had reported a debris cloud and structural damage to homes, but authorities had not confirmed whether a tornado had touched down.

At least one home in Lone Oak was destroyed, Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster said.

Joey Romero, 24, said he and his girlfriend rode out the storm in the freezer of a Sonic restaurant at a service station in Rice.

They were driving from Dallas to Houston when it started to hail, he said.

"We pulled over under some covering. Hail the size of golf balls started falling. Then, we saw hail the size of baseballs," he said.

Someone screamed when they saw the tornado forming behind Sonic, he said. The wind roared and the station lost power.

"The first few seconds it was all sort of surreal. I couldn't really believe it was happening...We all walked back in the freezer. It was cold in there and there wasn't light and people were starting to cry," he said.

The hail shattered car windows, Romero said. The second-year medical student at University of Texas, Houston, said he helped treat injuries. A police officer told him a truck and a car had flipped over on the highway.

After several hours inside Sonic, Romero was on the road back to Houston late Sunday.

"Even now, we can see the storm off to the east of us. The sky is pitch black," he said.

CNN's Jacqui Jeras, Catherine E. Shoichet and Jessica Jordan contributed to this report.