FORT WORTH — Children whose lives were upended this spring by a deadly tornado in Hood County and a fiery explosion in West are getting the chance to forget about the disasters and have some fun this week.The children, 18 from West and seven from the Granbury area, are spending a week at the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth’s Camp Carter, leaving behind the destruction and rebuilding efforts to swim, canoe and fish in Cottonwood Lake, ride horses and learn archery. Supporters of the YMCA paid for scholarships to camp, and Durham School Services sent a school bus to West to pick up children. Seven other children from West attended camp three weeks ago. “Our focus is all about giving these kids a week of normal,” said Andy Hockenbrock, the camp’s executive director. “Residential camping in general is good to level the playing field. It lets kids be kids for the week.”But even though normalcy is the goal, real life still creeps in.Brief thunderstorms that blew through the Fort Worth area on Tuesday made some youngsters who experienced the May 15 tornado a little jumpy. That was the case for Jose Cruz, 10, who lives in the Rancho Brazos subdivision, ground zero for the tornado.“Every time it rains or a dark cloud comes, I start freaking out. I start worrying and get kind of scared when there is thunder and lighting,” Cruz recalled on Wednesday. “But I told myself it was nothing, it was just rain.”Counselors changed the schedule that evening so that instead of playing soccer and kickball outdoors, campers had a movie night, Hockenbrock said. The Granbury area children are from at Acton Elementary and Acton Middle schools, two campuses that serve the Rancho Brazos subdivision. The EF4 tornado, in which winds reached 180 mph, killed six people and damaged dozens of homes. To identify children impacted by the blast at the West Fertilizer plant, YMCA officials worked with teachers and a guidance counselor at West Intermediate School. The April 17 explosion killed 15 people and damaged an estimated 350 homes. Students from both communities had harrowing memories of the disasters.Joe Youngblood, 10, was visiting a friend in Acton when they heard tornado warning sirens.“We all went inside and went in the bathroom and half of his house got ripped away and his dad almost got sucked away,” Youngblood said. “I started floating up in the air, the wind was so powerful. My cousin held onto me with all his strength to keep me in the bathroom.”In West, Jesse Morgan, 11, said she initially thought the explosion was a train wreck.“All I heard was two big booms and everything came off the walls, the couch slid across the room and a table fell,” she said. “Everybody’s houses were blown away.”Morgan said she burst into tears when she saw West Intermediate School on fire.Yet the campers said this week they aren’t spending any time exchanging tales or rehashing memories of the disasters. Instead, they’re focusing on making new friends and learning new skills.Christian Mendoza, 10, a sixth grader at West Middle School, climbed a 60 foot rock wall on Wednesday and rang a cowbell when he reached the top.“There were so many people that were hurt or dead. They don’t want to talk about it. It was a sad thing,” said Christian. “It is nice to get away and be here at camp. It doesn’t bring back the bad memories. This is like, a happy thing. And it’s fun.” This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown