Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tornado Victims of Copeville


Perhaps the worst part about living in Texas is that dreaded thing we call "Tornado Alley." If you live here, you get it.

We just go about our daily lives and know that there is a season where we have to be somewhat vigilant.  We never expect it will be us that is under the gun.

Suddenly, last Saturday, after unusually warm temperatures for the Christmas holiday season, we found ourselves hunkered down in the pantry, listening to Pete Delkus telling us there is an extremely violent tornado on the ground that just made it's way through Garland and Rowlett and was headed for Wylie.

Yes, I'm the type of person who missed her calling as a storm chaser. I am the one standing at the open back door taking photos and recordings of the power of that Mother Nature wench.

While everyone else is tucked safely under the stairs in the pantry, I am standing at the storm door listening for alarms and telltale signs that we actually needed to take cover. Plus, I don't want to miss one of those epic videos of massive hail balls raining down from us during the wrath of God.

Yet, when Delkus told us to take cover immediately, a shiver ran up the back of my neck and I actually entered the pantry. Well, it is certainly well-stocked with food should we need it, but I don't like the idea of tangling with can-sized missiles either. Still, I entered and I waited for what I most certainly thought would be the dreaded freight train. I heard something hit the roof and then dead silence. No wind, no rain. It was freakishly eerie.  It had passed us but I did not realize how truly lucky we were until the reports started coming in.

By some grace of God, the storm that was headed directly for Wylie, suddenly shifted to the right. Sadly, our neighbors in Copeville and on up through Farmersville, Princeton, and even Bonham got it. Every new photo brings more heartache.

When we left the pantry and I gave the all clear, I looked at the back patio and noticed there was debris everywhere. I grabbed the flashlight and stepped out the front door and what greeted me was so incredibly surreal, I will never forget it.

There were neighbors with flashlights everywhere surveying the deluge of tornado debris that rained down upon our neighborhood. This was pieces of people's lives. It deserved to be cherished somehow.

There was pink, yellow, and white insulation everywhere, ragged chunks of roof decking and shingles, some with nails protruding. There were shards of plastic and large splinters of wood everywhere.

As the hubster and I made our way down the street, we came upon huge sheets of corrugated metal, long, twisted strips of aluminum siding, 2-3 foot sheets of roof decking, and even a huge Lowe's Tyvek-style tarp. On our own property we found a Lego and child's nap mat from a daycare center.

















The debris was and still is overwhelming. I had to take two hours off from work to clean it up from our property during the day because it's simply too dark after work to see everything.

Driving down the streets in our neighborhood has brought some nails in tires. The debris is everywhere and I cannot imagine how to get all the insulation off our rooftop.

A neighbor posted a photo of the busted top of an animal crate with Dallas County Veterinary Hospital on it. My friend posted pieces of someone's red-light ticket from Frisco that will have to be explained when it goes unpaid. I have pieces of people's tax records, a car title application and a canceled check, both from different locations in Garland. Yet another friend posted a pic of someone's keyboard with all the keys ripped off.

Another friend recounts his experience accidentally driving right into the tornado which left him alive and praising God eternal, but his truck is a little less for the wear.

Photo credit: Dwayne Ryman
Yet we are the lucky ones. We were so blessed to not be one of those digging out our belongings and our selves from under piles of rubble. For that I have been perpetually thanking God every couple of minutes.

With Facebook and Twitter, the calls for donations and volunteers are readily available.

The news has been so hyper-focused on the Garland and Rowlett tornado damage, that Copeville on up 78 has been relatively ignored.

Because of this, I've been following the First Baptist Church of Copeville Facebook page and heeded their call last night for plastic totes, work gloves and batteries. My youngest son and I loaded up at Home Depot and warily made the trek, not knowing what to find.

I knew the area well, but the landmarks were all gone, so I turned down what I thought was the right street. It was chaotic, like what you would find after a rock concert, with people walking along the street, except they were in muddy boots and work gloves. You just can't understand the enormity until you are there in person.

To get to the church, you have to drive past Willard's and This I Know Christian Daycare and Preschool which are both completely demolished. It is so hard not to feel reverence, for there were 3 lives lost here.

Photo credit: Wendy Gouge Sanders
Once at the church, they were desperate for help. "Can't you spare just 10 minutes to help?" they asked. How could we possibly say no?

Cars and trucks streamed in the parking lot, and boxes and bags continue to pile up outside the church. The work never ends.



The pastor of the church came and said, "I don't know who you all are, but I thank you for helping," to a church filled only with a handful of people from as far as Dallas.

While we were sorting, two women who had lost everything came in to shop and were welcomed as the unlikely lead volunteer from Dallas, who really took charge and everyone looked to for answers, helped her shop for clothes and shoes.

More wonderful volunteers were in the kitchen area where stacks of white bread and other food were ready and waiting to feed people.

Two hours later we had to drag ourselves away and return home, though I plan to go back every day for the next several we have off work.

 These people truly need our help.