‘When You Open The Door, Everything Is Gone:’ Garland After The Storm

One family assesses the tornado damage to their home and neighborhood after this weekend’s deadly storms.

By Stephanie KuoDecember 29, 2015 11:03 am, , ,

This story originally appeared at KERA News. Find the first story by Stella M. Chávez and Stephanie Kuo here.

In Garland, many residents returned home yesterday for the first time to assess tornado damage. In one neighborhood, just south of the intersection of I-30 and President George Bush Turnpike, the wreckage is particularly severe.

Michael Barnes and his family had just returned from Mississippi, and they were met with heavy rain, gusty wind and something much more alarming.

“My wife said, ‘Do you hear the sirens?’ And I said, ‘yes,’ and I told her to turn the TV down. And then I heard the rumbling and then the ground started shaking,” Barnes said.

He immediately corralled his wife and two daughters into the bathroom beneath the stairs. Outside,180 mph winds ripped apart his roof, shattered his windows and swirled his belongings in and out of the house. He said it felt like the whole house exploded. The ordeal lasted a mere 30 seconds.

“The door was barricaded, and I pushed it opened a little bit and I looked outside and I closed it,” he said. “So, we sat in their for a minute and I talked to them. I told them, ‘when you open the door, everything is gone.’”

The house itself is still standing, but it’s basically gutted — as if the inside had been sucked up through the roof. One tree is fallen over in the front yard; another thrust through a window. The downstairs bathroom, where they hid, was the only room still in tact.

“It looks like the Alamo,” Barnes said, shivering in the cold. He pointed to a pileup of cars in front of his house. “That’s the neighbor’s car on top of my new car.”

Barnes had to climb over rubble and traipse through sinking mud and debris to get to his front door, where a cylindrical heater blasted warm air into the foyer. The sound drowned out the wind and the glass cracking beneath people’s’ feet.

“This is the first time I’ve seen it in the daylight. It looks worse than what it was. I really don’t know how we survived that,” Barnes said. “We’re just going to have to start over. When people say, ‘you lose everything,’ well, we did, but you never lose everything because you still got your family.”

The Barnes family is luckier than most on the block. The house next door is completely leveled. Roof tiles, wood planks and pink insulation litter the lawns and sidewalks. It’ll be weeks before the city can clear it all. Garland Police Chief Mitch Bates said seeing the wreckage for the first time in the light of day was devastating.

“These are our family members, these are our friends, these are our neighbors, these are our citizens,” Bates said. “You see things like this on TV from other communities, other parts of the country where it happens, but it really hits home when it’s right here in your backyard.”

So far, police have confirmed eight deaths from high winds that flipped a dozen or so vehicles off the overpass at I-30 and President George Bush Turnpike. Police are also still trying to track down 18 other people. Many believe this was the worst storm in decades. It certainly was for Carl Cowan, who’s been with the Garland fire department for nearly 30 years. He said the department was as prepared as it could have been for a storm this size.

“There are always lessons to be learned, and there are always areas that can be improved upon, but we feel good about what we’ve accomplished over the past 36 hours,” said Cowan.

For his part, Michael Barnes has learned one big lesson:

“Protect your family. Just protect your family. Know what to do. All this other stuff outside, I couldn’t control that.”

To find out out how you can help, visit keranews.org or register at garlandtx.recovers.org.