May 15, 2014

One year later, deadly North Texas tornadoes remembered

Cleburne residents are still amazed that no one was hurt from last year’s tornado that damaged more than 600 homes.

A year after the tornado struck, the Beskow family is the picture of normalcy.

The couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Cassidy, squirms on her father’s lap as he recounts the night that tornado bore down on their Winchester neighborhood.

Fortunately, Cassidy has no memory of that horrible night.

But for her parents, Joel and Amy, the tornado remains vividly clear.

The couple, whose daughter was being cared for by her grandparents, rushed home from choir practice.

As the twister approached, they grabbed Cassidy out of bed and took cover with Joel’s parents and their dog in a small bathroom off of the kitchen.

The wind was whipping and a tree was knocked into their swimming pool. But as the tornado approached, Amy wondered if they would survive.

“Joel got really calm and quiet and hugged me and he whispered ‘I love you,’” Amy said. “I was like ‘He thinks we’re going to die.’ That’s when I truly got scared.”

With the reports coming in after the storm, Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain feared the worst. The Beskows live in Cain’s old home and, with the path of tornado, he was convinced it had been hit.

“Until the sun came up, I thought the entire neighborhood was gone,” Cain said.

But the Beskows, like other Cleburne residents, were lucky. The tornado lifted off the ground. Their home lost some shingles and suffered other damage — but they were unharmed. After the storm, they went outside to see pieces of metal and shingles lying everywhere.

Both Amy’s parents’ and grandparents’ homes were also damaged in the storm.

Following the tornado, Amy blogged about that night and it’s impact on her family. They weren’t alone.

More than 600 Cleburne homes were damaged by the twister and 92 were destroyed. About two-thirds of those destroyed homes have been rebuilt, but the others are still empty lots.

No one died in the EF-3 tornado that stayed on the ground for 8.5 miles.

It was one of 19 tornadoes that struck North Texas that day.

Trying to move on

Residents in the Rancho Brazos neighborhood near Granbury, weren’t nearly as fortunate.

The mix of small homes and mobile homes was devastated by the EF-4 tornado that killed six people and injured dozens of others.

The Rancho Brazos neighborhood was marking the anniversary with an after-school party at the neighborhood’s community center and by planting trees in memory of the victims. There was also a private dinner being held for residents.

At the time the tornado hit, there were 57 Habitat for Humanity homes in Rancho Brazos and 22 were declared a total loss. All of the damaged and destroyed homes have been rebuilt, most with homeowner’s insurance but some with Habitat’s help, said Carol Davidson, executive director of Hood County Habitat for Humanity.

“We have built 11 new homes this year, seven of those are for tornado victims and another one was rehabbed for a new family,” Davidson said. “We feel like we’ve turned a corner and are back to being a community.”

While the anniversary was being remembered, Davidson said there was also an effort to move on from the tragedy.

Hood County Judge Darrell Cockerham commended Habitat and other entities for rebuilding the neighborhood.

“I’m just really proud of all of the people working to get people back into homes,” Cockerham said. “Everybody has done a remarkable job bringing that neighborhood back.”

“Grace of God”

In Cleburne, Cain is convinced the advance warning and the awareness of what happened in Rancho Brazos helped save lives in his community.

“We were very fortunate,” Cain said. “It was by the Grace of God but it was also our people taking it very seriously.”

Along Lake Pat Cleburne, where the tornado first struck high-dollar homes, there are still signs of the twister’s rampage.

On Lakecrest Court, only three of the six homes on the street are currently occupied. The other three are still under some form of construction.

But Jeff Dugger and Mark White, who live across the street from one another, are both back in their homes.

Like Cain, Dugger is still amazed that everyone survived.

Immediately after the storm, he raced to his elderly neighbor’s home, convinced they didn’t survive. But within seconds, he spotted the couple climbing out of the rubble.

“I just didn’t see how we didn’t have people badly injured,” Dugger said. “That is the most amazing part, that we didn’t have any deaths or serious injuries.”

Dugger, who saw the roof sucked off by the tornado, still vividly recalls debris swirling around as he ducked under a low ceiling in the kitchen. The tornado came and went, only to return again.

“I knew the roof had left and I could hear furniture flying out of the ceiling,” Dugger said. “I was getting worried that the house couldn’t take much more.”

Dugger is still emotional about the scores of volunteers that helped clean up the neighborhood in the weeks following the storm.

“I never needed help,” Dugger said. “I didn’t really know how to accept help. But the next day, I looked out and we had nearly 50 people on our property.”

In the weeks that followed, volunteers poured into the neighborhood and Fort Worth sent equipment to help with debris removal.

Taking precautions

If another tornado comes toward his house, Dugger isn’t taking any chances. He built a safe room inside a living room closet

“It’s stout little room,” Dugger said. “I hope to never have to use it.”

Across the street, White, whose house had to be completely rebuild, got back into his home in March.

Like Dugger, he is grateful no one was hurt, and he is relieved to be back home. But he is matter-of-fact about another twister coming his way.

“I guess I’m kind of playing the odds,” White said. “What are the odds of it happening again?”

But for Amy Peskow, who is pregnant with the couple’s second child, living through the tornado has changed her family’s perspective. Her parents and grandparents took cover in a hallway at her grandparents home just seconds before the ceiling collapsed.

“A lot of people like to look out the front door at the storm and go ‘Oh yeah, look at that,’ ” Amy said. “I don’t think any of us will be doing that anymore.”

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