North Texas Recovering from Devastating Tornadoes

Nine tornadoes hit the area Saturday night, leaving 11 people dead and hundreds of homes and businesses damaged.

By Joy DiazDecember 28, 2015 11:19 am,

This interview contains details of victims’ deaths that may be upsetting to some listeners.

This weekend, nine tornadoes hit North Texas, destroying more than a thousand homes and business and leaving 11 people dead. The survivor stories are chilling, as are those of the dead.

One infant and some family members were sucked outside of their home in Collin County. One motorist, a mother of four from Garland, was on the phone with her family wondering about dinner plans on the way home when all of the sudden she screamed and the line went dead.

“What’s noteworthy about those deaths is that apparently none of them happened inside a home,” Eric Aasen of KERA News in North Texas says. “They were all in vehicles. A vehicle is the worst place to be during a tornado.”

One truck driver described the scene – what he remembers before he blacked out – a whine and a rapidly advancing succession of booms, as homes and transformers behind him exploded. Then his truck went airborne, crashing down on its wheels yards away from where it had been lifted.

In a house in Garland, people raced to a central bathroom and held the trembling doorknob closed, only to open it and discover that they were surrounded by darkness, rain and slivers of what used to be their home.

On Sunday, worshippers in Glenn Heights gathered under an awning of the church with its cross still affixed, as they prayed for their neighbors and themselves. Afterward, they pledged to rebuild.

What’s next for these communities after the storms?

At least one tornado was measured at 4 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, with winds of 180 miles per hour or more. Another was an EF 3, with winds of about 150 miles per hour. The tornadoes spared downtown Dallas, first striking south of the city in Ellis County, then skipping north to Garland and east to Rowlett.

“The tornado that hit Saturday, the one in Rowlett, it was a very dark, fat, wedge-shaped tornado, just huge. Not like a thin wispy tornado that you might see sometimes on the roadside in Texas,” Aasen says. “That tornado looked bad. It took through ‘til Sunday morning with the sun rising to get a full sense of the devastation. You saw roofs ripped off. Large trees uprooted and power lines down, and trucks and huge cars flipped over.”

Garland and Rowlett were the areas hit hardest.

“Hundreds of people are displaced, perhaps thousands,” Aasen says. “The American Red Cross is assisting lots of folks right now. Churches have been helping out and neighbors have been helping neighbors…. There’s a sense of resiliency and the mayor of Rowlett is saying we will rebuild.”

A cold rain came through on Sunday, hindering residents from picking through their belongings. It was one thing after another, Aasen says.

“In North Texas, if you weren’t dealing with a tornado in your neighborhood, you were dealing with rain or hail or flooding,”

Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a state of disaster and has promised help including the Department of Public Safety and the Texas State and National Guard. There are no insurance estimates on the damage as of this airing.

A 24-hour curfew is in effect in Rowlett. Some neighborhoods in Garland have been reopened. Garland officials spend the day looking for injured people. Officials promise to search every affected home and so far they have not found any more injured or dead.

Aasen expects curfew may remain in place for the next couple of days to keep residents safe from debris and to keep others from being in the area.

“The main concern is they don’t want residents to get hurt or harmed by the debris. Power lines have been down. They’ve been trying to restore power. There could be gas leaks,” Aasen says. “This is to protect the residents so they don’t get hurt… There were concerns on Saturday after the storm first hit that people who weren’t living in these neighborhoods were driving there and that was impeding some of the emergency responders.”

Listen to the full interview the audio player above.