In the big picture, you could say Rowlett was lucky. No one died when an EF3 tornado tore through the northeastern suburb the day after Christmas, unlike in neighboring Garland, where an EF4 twister from the same storm killed eight people as it tossed cars and trucks into the air near Interstate 30 and George W. Bush Turnpike. But on the ground on Lindsey Drive in Rowlett on Sunday afternoon, "lucky" hardly seemed the right word to describe what faced neighbors who slogged out into a cold driving rain to begin sifting the soggy pieces of their homes.
The tornado played true to stereotype, randomly picking winners and losers, leveling some houses and barely touching others within sight of one another. Houses with missing shingles and broken windows stood near others that were reduced to piles of lumber, brick, insulation and glass. Some cars were untouched, while others were flipped over or had their windows smashed by flying debris. Even the survivors' stories had a familiar ring. Take Catherine Armstrong's, for instance. Pausing as she and a group of helpers hauled a blanket loaded with her possessions away from her flattened home on Pebble Beach Drive, she described a scene right out of the standard tornado playbook: She cowered under cover in her downstairs bathroom as the twister roared with a sound "just like a freight train," ripping apart her house wall by wall, leaving her looking out at the night sky. "It's the only room left standing," she said.
Across the alley a few houses up, Jessica Trojacek rode out the storm at her job as a pharmacist at Baylor Hospital until she got a call from a relative who told her that it had struck her place. By the time she got home, police had cordoned off her neighborhood but waved her through when they saw her scrubs. She was luckier than Armstrong; her house had a huge hole torn in its roof and several broken windows, but unlike those behind her across the alley or just up the street that were literally torn in two, her place was left standing. Nature still had one more twist to give to the knife, though. "It's raining in my living room right now," she said, standing in her garage and looking out at the cold rain pouring down Sunday, adding an extra dose of misery to people left with damaged roofs and no power for heat.
Still, things could have been worse. For Trojacek, the good news was that her two dogs were safe, she has a brother to stay with and had already heard form her insurance adjustor. And while Christmas is a particularly cruel time for a natural disaster, the holidays meant that several of Trojacek's neighbors in the worst hit houses were traveling and so escaped possible injury. For many, the homecoming will be grim, but at least they — and all of Rowlett's storm victims — are alive to come home.
“It’s an absolute miracle as far as I’m concerned," Mayor Todd Gottel told The Dallas Morning News. “Seeing it on television doesn’t do it justice."