Royse City Herald-Banner

April 10, 2012

Recovery is under way for Rockwall County tornado victims

Herald-Banner Staff

ROYSE CITY — On a sunny Good Friday, residents of tornado-ravaged neighborhoods in Southeast Rockwall County were continuing to dig through rubble comprised mostly of splintered wood, twisted metal, sheetrock, insulation and shingles.

Residents were searching for photographs, other keepsakes, important papers and anything else of value.

And some still were searching for words to describe their ordeal of Tuesday afternoon, April 3.

Brooke Barnes couldn’t find the words.

When a reporter asked how she would describe her ordeal, she thought for a few seconds, then tears began to roll down her cheeks.

She embraced her husband, Braden, for a few seconds, then apologized to the reporter.

“I think I needed that,” she said of her tears.

The husband had words for his feelings.

“It was like the most joyous of times and utter devastation at the same time,” he said.

It was “joyous” because his wife and 2-year-old son, Eben, survived the tornado without a scratch. And “utter devastation” because of the damage to the family’s home in Bent Trail Estates off Farm to Market 548.

Brooke Barnes later led the reporter on a tour of what was left of the family‘s home. The tornado on Tuesday and workers on Wednesday and Thursday stripped the home down to the walls. Only a shell of the 2,400-square-foot house remains.

Barnes’ first stop on the tour was her place of refuge — a bathroom.

When the mother saw the tornado approaching, she and her son got into the bathtub. She covered him with her body and then she piled pillows on top. Eben was wearing his bicycle helmet. She placed an open book over her head — something she learned in elementary school during tornado drills.

The noise from the tornado was deafening, but she recalled hearing “ripping sounds.”

Their ordeal lasted maybe 20 seconds, she said. The first sign that the tornado was gone and that their home had major damage was when she saw the sky. The roof above the bathtub was gone. The mother and son were trapped inside the bathroom temporarily, but they were safe.

The father stayed on the cell phone with his wife throughout the storm. He heard his son’s screams, but he was relieved when he heard his son announce, “It’s raining in the bathroom.”

The neighborhood was active with workers on Good Friday. Family, friends and strangers were there to help homeowners with whatever they needed.

Home Depot had a prominent presence in the neighborhood Thursday and Friday.

Shane Moore, manager of the Rockwall Home Depot store, said more than 100 employees were in the neighborhood Thursday and about 40 were there Friday. Moore said the workers, all wearing orange Home Depot T-shirts, were from stores throughout the area.

“This is an opportunity for us to give back to the community,” Moore said. “The people here are not just our customers. They’re our friends and our neighbors.”

Jaimie Westemeier of McLendon-Chisholm was among the strangers who showed up to help. She helped Glenda McClelland carry small items out of the Bent Trail Estates house that is owned by her daughter, Brandi Hickey.

“They’re a part of our community and they need help,” Westemeier said of her reason for volunteering.

McClelland said her daughter and two children had lived in their house only two months. It was her “dream house,” McClelland said.

Hickey’s house was heavily damaged by the tornado.

McClelland said emergency workers told her daughter that her house probably was the first one hit by the tornado. The tornado’s path covered 3.1 miles and was about 400 yards wide.

“Thank God nobody was at home,” McClelland said, adding that her daughter left a short time earlier to pick up one of her children at school.

She said her daughter was concerned about recovering two very important items — a set of dishes that belonged to her husband’s grandmother and her husband’s Bible. The dishes and Bible were found and they were not damaged.

These items are so important to Hickey because her husband died in a car crash five years ago, McClelland said.