Saturday, April 29 2017, was a day the local weather stations had issued weather alerts about throughout northeast Texas several days before. Severe thunderstorms with the possibility of tornadoes are broadcast seemingly weekly during spring. This year natives, like myself, had become desensitized to the alerts. Most of the “severe storms” had not developed past simply showers which dropped an inch or two of rain. We had just experienced a typical 24 hours of rain during the past week. I had no preconceived worry going into the weekend.
The storms were predicted to start around 6 pm in our area. I wanted to hang nylon netting on metal posts for the shoots of butter bean plants, growing quickly, in need of structure to climb. Hanging netting between two rows was my choice. The nylon netting would make it easier and more expedient at harvest time to gather the pods by reaching into the four inch squares of the netting holding both rows of plants allowing me to walk down one row to pick them all. One of the fourteen had begun to wind itself around one of the six tomato plant cages on the last row. I didn’t want to wait until Sunday which was predicted to rain as well. I went out about 3 pm to complete my project.
It was overcast and the wind was whipping through the trees with the rustling of leaves and branches getting louder with each gust. There was a lake wind advisory in effect but no other warnings were issued before I had gone out to the garden. I had been at work for about 45 minutes when rain began to fall. It wasn’t simply sprinkling. A hard rain began. I ran around to the front yard to herd my two big dogs, Sissy (a yellow lab) and Sadie (a yellow shepherd mix), into the house and to the kennel they shared.
I turned on the television to the local news, KLTV Channel 7. They were reporting a tornado touching down in Van Zandt county, which joins Smith county to the northwest and is home to my thirty-year-old granddaughter, Audra, and her family outside the city of Canton. At the time of the report, I didn’t know she and her husband and two little girls were safe in Tyler just a few miles north of us in Smith. I got on Facebook to check everyone’s status.
The first post I saw was from Alyssa, Audra’s sister, who lives in Scurry, Texas which is west of Canton in Kaufman county. She is 25, and an animal activist and rescuer. Her concerns, of course, were for all the pets exposed to the dangerous storm activity. But she was safe in her trailer, although the thunder and lightening were causing her small home to shake.
Later, the news channel started following the storms closely. As the story developed, pictures of damage throughout the area of Eustace, forty miles west of Canton, and Canton area itself were broadcast. It was devastating. Sunday morning the whole story unfolded in a bulletin from the National Weather Service:
VAN ZANDT COUNTY, TX (KLTV) –
The National Weather Service Fort Worth Office confirmed Sunday that at least four tornadoes hit East Texas Saturday night. The following is a National Weather Service bulletin from KLTV.com:
“The NWS said they are able to confirm at least 4 tornadoes impacted Van Zandt County.
Tornado 1 was near Grand Saline and has been given a preliminary rating of EF-0.
Tornado 2, around 1 mile east of Canton, has been given a preliminary rating of EF-0.
Tornado 3, which is the long track south of Eustace to just west of Canton, has been given a preliminary rating of EF-3.
Tornado 4, which is the other long track that started out in Henderson County, tracked just east of Canton and up into Rains County has been given a preliminary rating EF-3 for the Van Zandt County portion. VAN ZANDT COUNTY, TX (KLTV).”
The longest path was estimated at 49 miles long from Eustace to Canton. The following link to a video via KLTV.com shows our Governor Gregg Abbott explaining the damage and what is needed to help: http://www.kltv.com/story/35286743/governor-city-officials-4-dead-2-people-missing-more-than-5k-homes-businesses-damaged-in-storm#.
When my granddaughter, Audra, was able to make it back to her rural Canton home, she and her family discovered their home was intact but there were uprooted trees including one which barely missed destroying their house. Other damage included horse pens being moved and damaged. A close inspection of one of her horses showed some respiratory issues with his nose draining mucous which could have been related to inhalation of debris. The nearest neighbor’s home to her was wiped out.
There are some things in this life that are totally beyond human control. Severe weather is one of them. But Texans are among the most resilient people in the world. Whenever and wherever there is a tragedy, we come together to help. God bless Texas.