Tornado Aftermath

01.06.16 | by Kimberly Durnan

Tornado Aftermath

    Johnathan Rhodes barely recognized the neighborhood in Rowlett where he grew up climbing trees and playing catch. His parent’s house no longer touted its tidy trim or manicured lawn, and the neighbors’ houses had missing roofs, blown out windows or were collapsed into a heap of bricks.

    The bucolic, middle-class street took a punch on Dec. 26. When several tornadoes ripped through North Texas the day after Christmas killing at least 11 people and damaging hundreds of homes in Dallas, Collin and Ellis counties.

    Rowlett was one of the hardest hit. When Rhodes saw the destruction, he brought his remodeling company to Willard Street to offer his resources. “I grew up in the neighborhood so I’m trying to help them save a little money,” he said. “We are volunteering our services.”

    Bishop Suffragan Paul Lambert met with Rhodes and other volunteers as they sorted and cleaned the massive debris field left by the tornado. “I just wanted to tell you we appreciate what you guys are doing out here,” Lambert told them. “What else do you need? How can we help?”

    Rhodes pointed to a house that was completely destroyed and said the family had paid cash for the home, had no insurance and now had nothing. The Rev. Keith Turbeville, Rector of Holy Trinity by the Lake in nearby Heath, stepped up with gift cards to stores to help the family purchase items for their immediate needs.

    Lambert, Turbeville and the Rev. J. D. Brown, rector of Holy Trinity in Garland, toured the devastated neighborhoods to assess the damage, talk to those affected and determine how best to help. As the three walked through the Rowlett neighborhood, Lambert noted through the rubble a cross that had been recently carved out of the remains of what once was a large tree. “It gives me great comfort knowing that even among the destruction around us, that Christ is present,” Turbeville said.

    The rector recalled the night of the storm when he saw the transformers blow out across Lake Ray Hubbard from his home. Soon afterward he began calling parishioners to see if they were OK. He later began organizing an aid effort from his church to help the neighboring area.

    “We collected $10,000 in six hours. It was amazing,” Turbeville said. He credited church leader Frances Farmer and the outreach team. “So many people helped at Holy Trinity, and I’m so proud. What a great church. I love them so much.”

    Turbeville soon learned from parishioner, Sean Fay, who is also the Assistant Fire Chief for the City of Rowlett, that first responders needed food. Parishioners from Holy Trinity by the Lake and volunteers from other churches in the diocese made about 200 lunches a day for the workers.

    The Rev. Rebecca Tankersley from St. James in Dallas was a whirlwind of help and quickly organized volunteers, Turbeville noted, saying those parishioners brought money, supplies and workers to the cause.

    One diocesan clergyman was on the scene minutes after the storm. Brown is also the chaplain for the Sunnyvale Fire Department. Once the storm hit he was immediately dispatched to a mobile home park where the wreckage was severe. He estimated more than 60 units were destroyed or severely damaged. “We helped six survivors evacuate and we made sure the fires were out. We had a helicopter flying the periphery to view what we couldn’t see in the dark,” he said. The damage was comprehensive including a few mobile homes that had been picked up and dropped into a nearby pond.

    Once the immediate emergency duties were addressed, Brown’s thoughts turned to Toler Elementary because Holy Trinity has a One Church One School partnership with the school where 45 families have lost everything and another 50 with damage.

    During a recent visit to the school, Assistant Principal Donna Hernandez said the impact to the students’ families was overwhelming. She wept when talking about one family with five children who had lost everything they owned only walking away with the clothes on their backs. She said the school was trying to address the immediate problem of replacing backpacks and school uniforms for their students.

    Lambert said the school would receive a $6,000 grant from Episcopal Relief and Development that would help pay for those items. Bishop George Sumner has donated $5,000 from the diocese. 

    The Rev. Virginia Holleman, diocesan coordinator for Episcopal Relief and Development, said she was pleased the school had been approved for the grant. She also noted that she had gotten word from several parishes throughout the diocese that had donated money, time and supplies to help.

    The Rev. Perry Mullins from Good Shepherd in Dallas organized youth to serve hot meals to volunteers and survivors and used a special vehicle to deliver to hard-to-reach areas. Deacon Liz O’Donnel from Transfiguration in Dallas reported that the church was rallying behind three parishioners whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the storm.

    With hundreds of homes in need of reconstruction or repair, regaining normalcy will take a long time, Brown said. While driving through the hardest hit areas and viewing the extensive damage, Brown said he hopes people continue their prayers and aid for months to come. “This is going to be a really long, incremental recovery, he said.”

    Bishop Lambert agreed saying the hundreds of families affected by the storms will need continued support to rebuild their homes and lives. “As I toured the areas devastated by the storms I was struck by the power and randomness of tornadoes. Words can not adequately express my feelings. The complete destruction of peoples’ homes is simply incomprehensible,” he said. “What will they do? How will they survive? What can we do?”