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Dallas tornadoes leave devastation in their wakes

October 24, 2019


Sydney Rowe

Scattered debris from street lights and trees lie on Royal Lane in Dallas on Monday. Nine tornadoes hit North Dallas Sunday night and devastated many businesses, residential areas and schools.

Part 1: Disaster strikes shopping center, neighborhoods

This story is part of a Sidekick series about the tornadoes that affected Dallas on Oct. 20, 2019. 

DALLAS – A light flickers from a fallen traffic light. Telephone poles, bent 45 degrees, lay across the intersection, forcing passers-by to step over their twisted wires. Windows are shattered, and roofs are entirely lifted from their buildings. 

Sunday night’s tornado decimated the shopping center on the corner of Preston Road and Royal Lane. Where blocks of stores, restaurants and establishments stood now lie shards of glass and exposed insulation, boarded windows and broken scaffolding.

Nine tornadoes struck the North Dallas area Sunday night, including an EF-3 twister that cut through northwest Dallas and Richardson—the strongest and most destructive of the nine. EF-3 tornadoes are classified by estimated wind speeds between 136 and 165 miles per hour.  

Each business, including White House Black Market, in that strip must board up the shattered windows and secure the building.

Sydney Rowe
The Talbots is unrecognizable at the Preston Oaks Shopping Center on Monday after the previous night’s storm. Nine tornadoes hit North Dallas Sunday night and devastated many businesses, residential areas and schools.

“[Friday] night, I thought maybe the tornado didn’t hit us,” White House Black Market general store manager Ellen Yung said. “I had read on a post that T.J. Maxx was OK, and we’re just directly across the street, so I thought we might be OK too. But then I saw a video circulating where Talbots and Interabang Books was hit really hard. Then, I wondered because we’re so close to them.”

Despite the destructive path of the tornado, there were no resulting fatalities or critical injuries. 

“Of course it’s devastating, but we’re just thankful the entire team is safe,” Yung said. “On Sundays, [the workers] leave at 6:30, and we weren’t here in the area when [the tornado] happened, so just thank God.”

Before insurance adjusters can come in to evaluate the estimated cost of repairs, the area must be cleaned up to prevent any possible further damage. Entrust One Facility Services is a commercial janitorial company based in the Metroplex that works with emergency relief for major disasters. 

“Things need to be left pretty much untouched until the insurance adjusters come so they can assess the cost of damage and approve an amount to repair the facilities,” Juan Zamora, Chief Operating Officer of Entrust One, said. “It’s too early for the adjusters to come. Mainly, our goal right now is to make the place as safe as possible for people that are going to come and do the adjustments. We have to make sure there’s no danger of debris.”

Sydney Rowe
A battered pick-up truck lays in the parking lot of the Preston Oaks shopping center in Dallas on Monday. Nine tornadoes hit North Dallas Sunday night and devastated many businesses, residential areas and schools.

The damage seen in the neighborhoods surrounding the Preston Royal Shopping Center is across the board. In the neighborhood of Preston Hollow, many houses suffered minor cosmetic damage in their yards with scattered tree branches and lost electricity.

“Here in Preston Hollow, people are all over the map,” Preston Hollow resident Marcie Pagel said. “There’s some critical damage, structural damage. It’s all over the board. For people who were critically hit, right now is just taking care and figuring out the next step. For us, for people who aren’t out of their homes, it’s just about cleaning up, waiting for electricity to turn back on. It might be a while. Water is running, but electricity has been out since [Sunday] night. We’ve been hearing it’s going to be a couple days, but I’ve heard in other parts of North Dallas it’ll be three to six weeks.”

On the other side of the Preston Royal Shopping Center lies a neighborhood that appears as if it’s from an entirely separate world, despite only being a few blocks down. House after house displays roofs either partially destroyed or completely lifted off. Fences are collapsed inwards, exposing the destruction within the yards and houses themselves. 

Joy Colemen is a resident within that neighborhood and must tear down her house before rebuilding. She was in her house with her family when the tornado struck.

Sydney Rowe
This house was decimated on Sunday night after an EF-3 tornado, one of nine confirmed tornados, caused serious damage in North Dallas. The storm devastated many businesses, residential areas and schools.

“I just thank God that He took care of us,” Colemen said. “We were in the house, and we knew something was happening. We were watching the [Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles] football game, and we saw the windows compress in, and I thought ‘huh’. And I said, ‘guys, let’s get into the closet now.’ And they said we’re fine, and I said ‘no, hurry hurry.’ And I grabbed my dog—I have a 160 pound dog—and I said get in the closet. And then all of a sudden, the sound, it sounded like a big freight train. The roof kept going up and down, and no wonder why. There it is; it’s all gone. I just pray to God to take care of us. I knew He would.”

The true destruction of the tornado is seen within homeowners like Colemen.

“It’s devastating,” Colemen said. “It’s shocking and I’m in disbelief. I’m just thinking is this truly happening, and it’s still not real. It’s just sad. You work hard and hard and hard. It’s just devastating to see everything you do and put your hard work into and it’s gone just like that. It was in 10 minutes. It’s gone.”

Follow Karen (@_karenlu_) and @CHSCampusNews on Twitter. 

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Christie Hernandez

Shattered glass and rubbish lie around the remnants of Walnut Hill Elementary School on Wednesday. Ten tornadoes tore through the Dallas area on Oct. 20. and destroyed many schools, homes and businesses.

Part 2: Tornadoes wreck area around Walnut Hill Elementary but unite community (with video)

This story is part of a Sidekick series about the tornadoes that affected Dallas on Oct. 20, 2019. 

DALLAS – When Walnut Hill Elementary students left school on Friday, Oct. 18, they had no idea they wouldn’t be returning the following Monday. 

Or the next. 

Or the next. 

On Oct. 20, 10 tornadoes touched down across North Texas; along with Cary Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School, Walnut Hill suffered immense damage from the storms. Its students are currently relocated to Tom Field Elementary school, and it is uncertain whether Walnut Hill will be rebuilt or not, as Dallas ISD’s leadership and Board of Trustees are still considering options. 

“Walnut Hill’s campus still needs to be thoroughly evaluated to determine if it will be rebuilt,” Principal Phillip Potter said via email. “The message I want to send is even though we lost our building, we didn’t lose our school. [Also], daily life is back to normal as we are focused 100% on culture and instruction to ensure results for our kids as we are a campus with a rich tradition of excellence no matter our location.”

From donations – both monetary and otherwise – to volunteers, Dallas ISD has received help from numerous residents, businesses and more to facilitate the schools’ recovery. 

“The outpouring of support from parents and the greater Dallas community is positively overwhelming and astounding and it shows how the city is stepping up,” Potter said via email. 

Dallas ISD is not alone in its pain – or its gratitude. Multiple neighborhoods around Walnut Hill Elementary were also left in shambles, and many residents appreciate how much others are doing to help them, including Patricia and Jack Padian. 

“This is a wonderful area,” Patricia said. “Everyone has been wonderful. People from St. Monica Catholic Church came over; the Dad’s Club, they took all the trees that were in the street and moved them. All of our neighbors, younger neighbors, came to make sure we were alright.”

Due to the unpredictable nature of tornadoes, most did not have much time to prepare for the storm, if any. 

“Well, our experience is sad because we’re two elderly people; my husband was in the bedroom watching the [Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles], I was in the den, watching BBC,” Mrs. Padian said. “We didn’t even know what was going on, there were no sirens, the Cowboys were not interrupted. Nothing, until I heard a crash in the kitchen, and then the skylight came down through the roof. That was the first time we realized anything was going on at all.”

Although much of the interior remained untouched, many of the home’s double-pane windows shattered, and the outdoor shed was completely destroyed. Piles of debris floated in the couple’s pond, some not even from their neighborhood. 

Christie Hernandez
The outline and debris from a shed lie in the backyard of a home off of Fieldfare Street in Dallas on Wednesday. Ten tornadoes tore through the Dallas area on Oct. 20. and destroyed many schools, homes and businesses.

“The whole thing occurred in two minutes,” Mr. Padian said. “The aftermath [shows] how good the people are. It takes something like this to see how good people are.”

Fabian Ramirez, the Neighborhood Code Representative II of the city of Dallas’s Code Compliance Services, is one of the many people working hard to help affected residents.

“The No. 1 thing is the safety of the citizens of Dallas,” Ramirez said. “The most important thing is to get the [power] lines back up, get the electricity back up. But also, just the safety of the citizens, that they’re aware of what’s going on with the lines down.”

Four miles from Walnut Hill, Northway Church also sustained significant damage to many areas, including its worship center and next-generation building. Coppell High School 2001 graduate Matt Younger, who is also the church’s pastor of ministries, lives across the street from the church and was one of the first to see its destruction. 

“I’m the staff member that lives closest to the church,” Younger said. “The Cowboys game was on, it was halftime, I got the text from my dad [about the] tornado warning, so we jumped in the closet. One of the guys who works here said, ‘Hey, I think there’s damage to the church.’ So my family and I drove up here, and we saw it, it was awful, we all started crying – my wife and three kids and I. It was awful. To see the architecture go was sad, but more than anything our house of worship, it’s just so sad to see that.”

With the help of a few nearby churches,Northway Church organized a community dinner on Oct. 23 to unite people and help provide relief. A few local businesses chipped in as well, such as Duracell with its charging stations and Kroger with its donated water. 

“[The dinner] is a small gesture of love and comfort,” Younger said. “There’s both grief and hope for us.”

Follow Pramika (@pramika_kadari) and @CHScampusnews on Twitter

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