Van Zandt County residents begin cleanup after tornadoes hit Canton community

Published on Sunday, 30 April 2017 23:03 - Written by LOUANNA CAMPBELL, lcampbell@tylerpaper.com

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VAN ZANDT COUNTY - The Bobo family is without electricity in their home on Van Zandt County Road 4121, where on Sunday they were powering their fridge with their truck.

MaryAnn Mulvaney lives across the street from the Bobos. Her family was raking leaves Sunday and cutting the branches of the large trees that were uprooted and fell on the home.

“The TV went out,” Ms. Mulvaney said. “We heard the sirens and our phones were getting notifications. We took cover in the hallway. It really did sound just like a freight train.”

Mrs. Mulvaney's family worked to clear the backyard of limbs and branches. The sight of uprooted trees that once towered more than 50 feet were leaning on fences or on the ground.

They was among the many Van Zandt County residents up early Sunday morning surveying damage and beginning to clean up after two tornadoes hit their community. 

Stories from down the street were much the same. Electricity remained out, cell phones weren’t working, trees were uprooted and lying across yards, roots and cars.

“It looked like birds were flying around in a circle, and it sounded like a locomotive was coming at us,” James Wiking said. “It’s pretty bad, but we’re okay.”

The Wal-Mart parking lot on Highway 243 became a staging ground for dozens of utility service trucks and personnel who worked to restore power.

Oncor contractors and other utility providers worked throughout the morning and afternoon putting in new poles and transformers along Highway 64 East of Van Zandt CR 4121 where the destruction began.

“It’s a pretty bad situation,” Oncor contractor Erik Hannah said. “It may be late (Monday) before power is restored.”

Richard Mendoza, manager at Higginbotham Brothers Ace Hardware store on Highway 243 started his day early, ready to come to his neighbors’ aid.

He got a crew of workers together and stockpiled emergency supplies, batteries, ice, chainsaws and was ready to help the community.

In the parking lot of the store, residents were seen hugging and crying early Sunday. 

At the Red Cross shelter set up at the First Methodist Church Life Center, 600 S. Buffalo, in Canton, helicopters were heard flying overhead.

Shelter workers said they sheltered one family Saturday night. The shelter has 50 cots, showers, blankets and food and water.

Vic Wetherhold, who lives 6 miles south of town, visited the shelter Sunday morning for water after his family's well stopped working due to power outages.

Liz Navares visited the shelter to get water and use the phone on her way home, but the people she was trying to call didn’t answer.

 

HOMES DAMAGED, DESTROYED

Among those affected by tornadoes was 13-year-old Trey Grier, who was at a friends house 2 miles away from his family’s home on County Road 4121 in Van Zandt County when sirens started sounding.

He texted his mom and step-dad, who had just lost power and television and were not aware they were in imminent danger.

“Trey was telling us where it was and when it would be here,” Jeff Hague said. “He let us know when it was 30 minutes away and when to take cover.”

The family’s house has a tree on it. It hit the room the family was sheltering in. The roof and house were intact and everyone is safe.

Not all families were as fortunate. Three trailer homes owned by the Chandler and Sherlock families in the 200 block of County Road 4101 in Van Zandt were destroyed. Those families are displaced, getting out only with the clothes on their backs.

Among those families are Kim and Jeremy Chandler and their 2-year-old son. They lived in one of the trailers with Jeremy's father. They went to Wal-Mart, as they do when storms come into the area, and road out the storm. 

By the time they returned home, they were told by authorities it was too dangerous for them to enter the area, so they returned to Tyler and returned Sunday to learn their home was gone. 

"We've lost everything," Ms. Chander said. "The reports I keep hearing are saying that it's not that bad. It is bad, and it's devastating." 

Officials said Sunday they were seeking housing for the many East Texans who have lost their homes, but they did not yet have an estimate on the total number of homes damaged or destroyed. 

There also were many businesses impacted across the region.  Reagan Sumner and his family were in in shock Sunday as they faced the reality their almost 2-year-old business is destroyed.

The Sumners owned The Rustic Barn, an event venue often used for weddings and other events. It was slated to host the Edgewood ISD prom on Saturday evening.

Fifteen students already were at the facility on Farm-to-Market Road 1255 on Saturday when the weather started to change. 

These students and an employee took shelter in a small closet and the women’s restroom as the tornado passed.

"We were putting up decorations," Brittany Sumner said. "Five were in the closet, and the rest of us were in the women's bathroom." 

Had it been an hour later, 150 students would have been at the venue. Everyone survived the ordeal, but Sumner said they still are in shock. He plans to rebuild his business.