Devastation in North Texas: How Life and Comfort Changes in a Split 45 Seconds

Rowlett tornado pic

photo: birchmencolonizer on Reddit

By now we have all heard, and seen, the expanse of sad devastation that is the current condition of many neighborhoods in North Texas after violent storms ripped and ravaged North Texas the day after Christmas, 2015. Violent storms spawned 9 separate tornadoes that killed 11 people. Three of those killed were north in Blue Ridge and Copeville and include an infant, 8 were blown away in Garland driving in their cars on Interstate 30 when tornado winds pushed their cars off the overpass like toy autos.

Your’s truly here was also on the road, driving south on the Dallas North Tollway, furiously trying to make it home and to our shelter. Our phones were alerting us to the storm.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the Rowlett tornado, which damaged 446 homes (101 are total losses) has been classified as an EF4, with winds up to 180 mph, according to the Weather Service. The tornado that killed two people in Copeville has been classified as an EF2. The winds reached 125 mph. The storms hit about 6:45 p.m. Saturday night, when it was dark. The rain came next and pelted the area. By morning damage could be assessed and then still more rain, including hail, and a major temperature drop.

As tropical and warm as Christmas Day had been, the day after Christmas brought furious devastation from Mother Nature.

Rowlett tornado from the sky

Heather Ethridge took this shot Saturday night while flying over Dallas

Saturday night’s tornado assessment was completed late Sunday afternoon – 446 homes were affected, 142 had minor damage, 83 had major damage and 101 were total losses.

But the numbers that mattered most, 23 injured and zero fatalities, remained unchanged Sunday – despite the four-mile gash the tornado cut through the southeast portion of the city of 57,000.

“Tomorrow, we begin moving into a different phase. Debris management,” City Manager Brian Funderburk said.

About 23 businesses near the intersection of Dalrock Road and State Highway 66 were also damaged. Some among them will be closed a while, city officials said. But the two major grocery stores – Tom Thumb and Wal-Mart – patched their roofs and remain open.

There are still 6,000 homes without power, mostly on the east side of the city. As cold sets in, the American Red Cross and Salvation Army continue to operate a shelter at Stedham Elementary, 6200 Danridge Road. Officials worried that restoring whole sections of the power grid could spark house fires.

City officials continue to refer those who wish to donate to the Red Cross, either online or live at a site set up at 3600 Chaha Road. Several Rowlett churches are also accepting donations, as is Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall.

A 24-hour curfew continues in all impacted neighborhoods. Only emergency workers and residents are allowed inside.

Police Chief Mike Brodnax did not think looting would be a problem, though there was an incident late Saturday.

“We know who is in our neighborhoods,” he said. “We feel pretty safe right now. Our biggest problem is the anxiety of our citizens wanting to get back into our neighborhoods.”

There was no estimate on when the neighborhoods would reopen. Or even if it would happen by Jan. 5, the day school is to resume at Pearson Elementary, the closest campus to the Rowlett storm’s path. While signs and trees near the school were broken, Pearson itself seemed intact, just outside the direct path of damage.

An aging water tower in a hard hit area near Martha Drive was drained as a precaution Sunday and will be reexamined Monday. There was a 300-foot perimeter near the tower where evacuation was ordered. But only one home within the range was still inhabited.

No damage has been reported to municipal facilities other than the water tower. City offices will be open Monday and in neighborhoods, garbage collection routes will run as usual.

“It’s an absolute miracle as far as I’m concerned,” said Mayor Todd Gottel. “Seeing it on television doesn’t do it justice … telephone pole after telephone pole after telephone pole snapped like twigs.”