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Texas tornadoes devastate neighborhood built by residents, Habitat for Humanity

Daylight reveals the trail of destruction in Texas left by tornadoes that ripped through the state killing at least six people. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

Dozens of families who lived in homes they helped build with their own hands saw their neighborhood devastated by a tornado that struck north Texas on Wednesday night.

Habitat for Humanity, a Christian group that organizes volunteers to build homes for the needy, had worked with residents to construct 61 houses in the Rancho Brazos neighborhood that was battered by the twister in Granbury, Texas. 

Aerial footage taken Thursday showed home after home in Granbury completely demolished, with others severely damaged. Six adults have been confirmed dead after what the National Weather Service said were three tornadoes that swept through Montague and Hood counties in northern Texas.

Rancho Brazos was a “well-knit” neighborhood were people kept their lawns trimmed and their single-story homes in top shape, said Asa Maddox, 68.

Ralph Lauer / EPA

Debris is piled into a fence after a tornado tore thru the area in Granbury, Texas, USA, 16 May 2013.

“The neighborhood was pretty immaculate,” he said.

The winds that whipped up on Wednesday night spared Maddox’s 897-square-foot home, but lifted up the metal lawnmower shed in his yard and blew out the windows on a van in his driveway, he said. He and his wife took shelter in their home’s laundry room with their dog.

“I had heard the sirens going off and it was a continuous blast from the sirens, so I knew that there was some sort of a weather deal coming on,” Maddox said. “Then all of a sudden my lights went out and it started hailing, I mean everywhere from pea-sized all the way up to baseball-sized hail coming down and really hitting my roof.”

Gusts bent trees in his yard and sent debris flying toward his home, Maddox said.

“I could hear a real loud noise, and as I listened it was getting louder and louder,” Maddox said as the tornado approached his home around 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday. “I kind of peeked out around and I saw the wind was blowing real, real, real hard.”

Maddox drove out of the neighborhood in the dark Wednesday night. His home was mostly spared, he said.

“The mobile home that was on my right is there. The roof’s pretty much gone,” Maddox said. “The other side of my house is another Habitat house about the same size as mine and it was still there.”

Another Habitat-built home down the street was not so fortunate.

“It just shattered. It disappeared,” Maddox said.

A retired service technician who worked in a mobile-home factory, Maddox said he has been in the Rancho Brazos home he built with the help of Habitat for Humanity volunteers since 2009. It was a “joyous occasion” when he moved into the home equipped with all-new appliances, he said. He said he has been in touch with his insurance agent and expects to be back on his feet soon.

“I thank God for sparing my house and myself, and I feel real, real bad about the people who lost their house, lost everything,” he said. “If there was a way that I could help them I would.”

Habitat for Humanity volunteers were working to finish two more homes for waiting families on the day the twister struck, said Michelle Kennedy, assistant director for Trinity Habitat for Humanity, a nearby affiliate that was supporting the local Hood County Habitat organization on Thursday.

“The house that was under construction this week survived,” Kennedy said. “The house that was ready to dedicate on Saturday was completely destroyed.”

Kennedy said she helped one homeowner who collapsed in tears in the hallway of Granbury’s First Christian Church, where about 50 Rancho Brazos residents took shelter with help from the Red Cross.

“It’s devastating,” Kennedy said.

“The thing that’s different about Habitat is that families actually work in the building of the homes,” she said. “They have a deep interest not only in their homes but in the community. This devastation, it almost gives them a sense of hopelessness.”

Habitat of Hood County’s newsletter recounts the work done by its volunteers over the years, including some overseas. Families contribute at least 300 hours of work to building the home they will move in to, according to the newsletter. Each house costs about $50,500 to build, according to the group's website.

Volunteers from Hood County also began partnering with Habitat for Humanity Kyrgyzstan in 2003, according to a post on the non-profit’s website. The Texans helped build homes for nearly two dozen families in Kyrgyzstan, HFH Hood County executive director Carol Davidson said in the post.