Tornado Tales From a North Texas Red Cross Shelter

Travis Koscheski, a 50-year-old Walmart employee, was sitting in his living room at the Landmark at Lake Village West apartment complex Saturday night,when he got the automated text messages warning of a tornado headed "in this area." Like others in Garland, he'd received those automated texts plenty of times in his life. A resident of the apartments for six years and Texas for much longer, he wasn't particularly worried.

He never even heard tornado sirens go off that night, he says. The first indication that the storm was real was the classic sound of a freight train, and he knew to head to the bathroom to wait it out.  Leaves pushed through under the bathroom door. The rattling was unlike anything he had ever felt. "This is the most horrendous, destructive, rattling storm experience that I've ever had," said Koscheski, still in shock as he sat at the recreation center in Garland that the Red Cross had converted to an emergency shelter.

After the rattling finally stopped, he returned to his living room and saw that the wall on the east side of the room had blown inward. Outside, the leasing office had been reduced to a pile of rubble. A church next door, Oasis Church at Lake View, was also destroyed.

Most of the people sitting and talking at the Garland shelter late Sunday afternoon had come from that same apartment complex or from the surrounding neighborhood. With police closing off the neighborhood after the storm, the displaced residents planned to sleep in the several dozen cots that Red Cross volunteers had laid out in the gym.

Katreace Kirkland, a nurse who lived at the complex for five years, was in the shower Saturday night when the lights flickered. She ran out to where her fiancé was watching weather reports on the news to ask if he noticed. Then all the lights went dead. Shortly after, "you could hear it coming through like a freight train," she says. Her unit survived the storm intact. But outside, she says seven units at the front and the leasing office were destroyed.

Lanita Meadows lives in a house across the street from the complex. She remembers hearing tornado sirens, but not very loudly. "You could hear it in [the] distance," she says. Her home also withstood the storm. But when she stepped out afterward, she saw the neighborhood had gone pitch black. The emergency crews came fairly quickly, within ten minutes, she and the others remember.

Garland's emergency shelter wasn't very crowded on Sunday, with at least as many people there to help as people who needed a place to stay. By early evening, Red Cross workers began turning away people who showed up to donate items and sent them elsewhere. Chasity Hayden, a 21-year-old Garland resident, lived far from the wreckage but came with a bag of jackets that she unsuccessfully tried to donate. She lived through one other tornado, when she was in elementary school. "This was much bigger," she says.

Volunteers from Mercury One, a charity founded by Glenn Beck, formed a prayer circle out by the parking lot. Lawrence Jones, the writer for Glenn Beck's website, The Blaze, who famously started a GoFundMe campaign for owners of an Indiana pizza shop who refused to cater a gay wedding, led the group. He and others from Mercury One were visiting different emergency shelter sites and churches to donate items, he said. "Garland isn't used to tornadoes. I think it kind of caught a lot of people off guard." 

Police crews blocked off roads near the wreckage in Garland on Sunday afternoon. The Lake Village apartment residents interviewed weren't sure if anyone had died in the front apartment building that had collapsed. They also weren't sure when they would get let back in their neighborhood and had no immediate plans to leave the shelter. "You're not the only one," Koscheski says he was told when he called into work at Walmart. "This has affected a lot of employees, and you're alive, that's all that counts." 

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn