East Texas couple begins picking up pieces from tornado

Published on Monday, 1 May 2017 20:09 - Written by DANNY MOGLE, danny@inmagtexas.com

On Monday afternoon, 77-year-old Bill Cockrum sat in a purple lawn chair splattered with mud and looked around his Grand Saline property.

He didn’t have much to say.

The RV in which he and his wife, Raylene, had traveled to the Grand Canyon was on its side and wrapped around trees. About 100 yards away, the mobile home that until two weeks ago housed Mrs. Cockrum’s mother was flattened. Except for jagged pieces of tin dangling in the tops of trees, nothing was left of their workshop.

Most of the trees were either toppled or had tops twisted off.

“Did you get something to eat?” Mrs. Cockrum asked her husband.

“My tools are gone,” he said, staring straight ahead.

The Cockrums’ property was ripped apart by one of seven tornadoes that ravaged East Texas on Saturday. Four people were killed, and thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Mrs. Cockrum took notice of the severity of the storm when weather bulletins kept interrupting her TV shows. The meteorologist warned people in Van Zandt County to take cover.

“I didn’t get concerned until they said on TV it was crossing I-20 and coming toward Fruitvale.”

She hid and prayed in a small closet.

“I was hollerin’ for him (Bill) to get in here,” she said, dabbing tears from her eyes.

He wouldn’t budge.

“I wasn’t goin’ to get in there,” Mr. Cockrum said. “I’m 77 years old. I figured if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Limbs poked holes into the roof. A window shattered. And then all was silent.

“When we opened the door, all we could see were (fallen) trees,” she said. “The trees were everywhere.”

Large oak trees were leaning against the house but it was in one piece.

Strangers with chainsaws came by Sunday and cut up trees that blocked their driveway. A relative brought them a portable generator. Their daughter, Jennifer Boles, came to do whatever she could.

The Cockrums’ longtime friends, Bill and Glenda Cobb, were helping them clean up on Monday afternoon.

“He doesn’t know what to do,” Bill Cobb said of his friend. “He’s so devastated. He just doesn’t know what to do. ... Usually he’s very outgoing. He’s the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back.”

The Cobbs stacked items they found among the debris onto the slab that once held the workshop.

“This used to be part of a shelf,” Mrs. Cobb said.

“Do you have a pile for scrap metal?” she asked her husband.

“I’m going to make a pile right here,” he replied.

Nearby, Bill Cockrum at last took a bite from a bag of barbecue chips.

“It took this whole building off,” he said in despair of his missing workshop.

“There’s no telling where it ended up,” Bill Cobb said. “I saw some debris over on (Highway) 80. It could have ended up over there.”

Back in the house, Mrs. Cockrum was on the phone talking to friends checking up on them.

“I’ve been through my mother dying and a tornado in two weeks,” she said. “That’s enough.”

Moments later, trucks carrying about 12 people from a Home Depot disaster relief team pulled up.

A woman representing the workers knocked on the door and asked Mrs. Cockrum what needed to be done.

Mrs. Cockrum had no idea they were coming.

She wasn’t sure where to even begin.