Sifting through the ruins of some 40 years of life together, piece by piece

Posted Sunday, May. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Billy Kelly and a dozen other members of Glenda and Robert Whitehead’s family sifted piece by piece through the ruins of the Whiteheads’ mobile home in the 3700 block of Sundown Trail in Rancho Brazos Estates.

“This is the second day we’ve been here,” Kelly, 63, said Sunday. “We found their birth certificates, deeds to properties, pictures, car titles and some financial documents. We found love letters he’d written to her from Vietnam.”

Glenda Whitehead and her husband of “40-some years” were two of the six fatalities left in the wake of the tornado Wednesday night that devastated the neighborhood they’d retired to only a few years ago, Kelly said. The relatives, most from nearby towns but some from as far away as Houston, had until sunset to work at the site.

A curfew from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. will remain in effect at least a few more days, Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds said.

“The curfew will continue until we’re satisfied that the residents are satisfied their properties are secure and safe, that all valuables are removed that they want to get out,” he said. “After that, we’ll just do close patrols.”

Returning permanently to their homes will be difficult. Utilities will continue to be out for the foreseeable future, maybe weeks, Deeds said.

“Power and water definitely are long-term problems,” he said. “The infrastructure has been destroyed.”

Monarch Utilities has set up a temporary station next to a water tower that was crushed by the storm. Monarch employees are providing potable water to anyone with containers.

Nothing similar can be done for electrical service, Deeds said.

“Brazos Electric is coming in Tuesday to repair the main supply line for United Co-op,” he said. United Cooperative Services “is a great company and they’re working as fast as they can,” he said. “Until more cleanup has been done, they can’t begin to restore anything. We don’t even have a ballpark estimate on either power or water.”

The rest of the rebuilding will be at residents’ discretion, Deeds said. Because the neighborhood is in unincorporated Hood County, and not in Granbury’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, residents will be free to move back into their homes even before utilities are restored.

Raul Rodriguez, 42, who owns a frame house in the 3800 block of Sundown Trail, said he and his family consider themselves lucky because the tornado did little structural damage to the house. The chain link fence that surrounded their yard is gone, as is the roof over the backyard patio.

The only damage to the home’s integrity was a broken piece of 2-by-4 that pierced the roof, about two feet of it jutting toward the sky.

From his property west to the Monarch water tower, everything was demolished, including the Whiteheads’ mobile home and one other, and a couple of Habitat for Humanity homes, Rodriguez said. He and his wife, Yubeana, and their three daughters took shelter in a tiny closet in the center of their home as the tornado passed over.

“To me it sounded like an airplane,” he said.

Rodriguez and his family will repair their home. In the meantime, they’re staying at an American Red Cross shelter. Rodriguez said he isn’t sure how long they will remain there.

Meanwhile, with his sister and her husband deceased, Kelly had only one incentive to continue clearing debris from the Whiteheads’ property.

“We’re responsible for cleaning up this place because my sister was that kind of person,” he said. “If it had been anyone else, she’d be out here doing this, whether it was for family or a friend.”

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans

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