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One Year Ago Today, Tornadoes Ripped Through Dallas

Reflecting on how far we've come and how much more work remains.
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Tornado damage at Walnut Hill and Marsh Lane, taken on October 21, 2019. Bret Redman

One year ago today, the Dallas Cowboys easily beat the Philadelphia Eagles, the State Fair of Texas was shutting down for 2019, and thousands of residents in Preston Hollow and Northwest Dallas and Richardson were rushing to find shelter as an EF-3 tornado bore down on them. Miraculously, no one was killed. The property damage was pegged at over $2 billion, an amount the Federal Emergency Management Agency declined to help cover.

Thomas Jefferson High School is still gutted. It will take years to fix the damage sustained by Walnut Hill Elementary School and Cary Middle School. The Home Depot on Forest Lane that took a direct hit finally reopened. Northway Church, just east of Forest Lane, is still damaged, its George Dahl-designed sanctuary of Noah’s Ark claimed by the force of the storms. The warehouses and small businesses along Harry Hines, like the textile wholesalers that make up Fabric Alley, still haven’t come back. When you cruise through Preston Hollow, blue tarps are still covering up roofs.

Yesterday H-E-B’s president over Central Market, Stephen Butt, presented Dallas ISD a $1 million donation to help fix the district’s schools that were damaged in the disaster. He did so in the Preston Royal shopping center, standing outside the shell of Central Market. The company says the store is being redesigned and renovated.

But here is was what it was like inside that store a year ago, as one of the 10 tornadoes that ripped through North Texas destroyed the shopping center. Note the shoppers being shuttled into walk-in freezers.

Our sister paper, People Newspapers, spent a lot of time last month exploring what’s happened over the past year. You can trace the ragged, eastbound zig-zag path the tornado took as it dropped in at Harry Hines and continued its trajectory past Central Expressway and up into Richardson. Bethany Erickson, the paper’s deputy editor, gathered dozens of first-person accounts of what that night was like—and the day, when the sun showed everyone what was lost.

I asked Bethany what was most surprising to her a year later.

“The amount of work that is still left,” she said. “The family we interviewed, the McCleskeys, had just moved back in to their home. Jeff Kitner, who is the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce COO, still isn’t in his home, and the NDCC offices are still not open. There’s a whole southwest side of Preston and Royal that is still unopened, and they only just demolished the shopping center at Marsh and Walnut Hill.”

“And I can’t tell you how many people told me they feel like the Cowboys winning may have saved lives. People were either tuned in to TV or they were safely in Arlington, and stayed for the whole game. That kept a lot of people off the roads while the tornado was on the ground.”

Spend some time with People’s project. It’ll make you realize how much is still needed, even after 365 days have passed.

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