One Year After Tornado, The Healing Continues

As the tornado tore through Arlington, the Rev. Will Cotton huddled with 80 school children and a few teachers at St. Barnabas United Methodist Church.

Windows began to break, and water slowly filled the room. To calm their fears, Cotton led the group in singing Jesus Loves Me.

When the 135-mph winds finally stopped, Cotton ventured outside to evaluate damage to the Arlington church. Rainwater flooded the sanctuary. The twister tore the roof off the Family Life Center, shattered windows and uprooted old trees.

“Something like this changes you,” Cotton said. “It was devastating, but we are deeply blessed to be part of the Arlington community.”

One year after the April 3 twister, Arlington residents and community members have repaired homes, churches and businesses, rebuilt neighborhoods, cleaned streets and planted trees.

The tornado — which was rated an EF2 on the damage scale — damaged nearly 500 homes, caused $600 million in damages and injured eight people in Arlington. It devastated entire neighborhoods and uprooted 100-year-old trees.

It tore part of the roof off the Green Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and firefighters and police officers helped evacuate the 132 elderly or disabled residents.

Across North Texas that day, 17 twisters damaged more than 1,000 homes and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage from Cleburne to Forney.

On Wednesday, members of St. Barnabas will gather for an anniversary dinner and celebration to give thanks to the community.

In the hours after the tornado hit, church and community members began showing up to the church to lend a hand. The Arlington Seventh-Day Adventist Church provided free space for the church to meet. The nearby Tate Springs Baptist Church opened its doors for the church’s early childhood education program.

“We had more water than we could drink and more food we could eat,” Cotton said. “The support was incredible. As a church, you often talk about reaching out to people. In this case, people were reaching out to us.”

Kathy Baker, an Arlington homeowner and nursing professor at Texas Christian University, recalled receiving numerous phone calls from neighbors after the tornado hit their cul-de-sac south of I-20 and Green Oaks Boulevard.

Baker raced home to find her street blocked, so she and a colleague parked a half-mile away and walked. The tornado had yanked the roof of her home, shattered windows and destroyed a grand piano.

Within hours, friends showed up with gloves, tarps and trash bags. Neighbors helped her salvage art and furniture. Police officers immediately barricaded streets and offered assistance. As soon as it was safe, employees from the Public Works Department were out in the neighborhoods helping remove debris.

Some neighbors climbed over broken trees and limbs to check on a wheelchair-bound neighbor, then went door to door taking a head count.

“When I first saw my house, I was obviously shocked,” Baker said. “But my true gut reaction was relief. I had just lost stuff. You can replace stuff.”

Baker, whose house was initially unlivable, moved back in during the holidays.

Like many homeowners, she decided to use the tornado as an opportunity to renovate and make updates. She removed walls to open the living areas, redesigned the kitchen and added a walk-in-closet to the master bedroom.

Baker’s neighbor, Woody Lynch, whose home sustained $130,000 in damages, updated a sunken living room and vaulted ceiling, replaced exterior wood with brick and landscaped his yard.

Over the past year, Lynch, who is a member of Citizens on Patrol, said he has watched his neighborhood rebuild and come together. They have helped each other clean debris, watched each other’s homes and exchanged information on contractors.

They planted trees as part of the city’s Tornado ReLEAF, which provided 1,000 free trees to residents and business owners, many of whom lost decades-old trees in the storm.

On Wednesday, weather permitting, the neighbors will gather for hamburgers and hot dogs to mark the one-year anniversary of the tornado.

“The storm brought us closer together,” Lynch said. “It made us stronger.”