Mission Lab 2018

Volunteers assist tornado-ravaged North Texas cities

January 5th, 2016 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

ROWLETT—Three weeks after SBTC Director of Missions Shane Pruitt was a guest preacher in their church, an SBTC Disaster Relief chainsaw team from Bellville First Baptist Church near Houston assisted Pruitt’s family in Rowlett in the wake of devastating tornadoes that swept through North Texas the day after Christmas. 

The Rowlett EF3 tornado was one of 12 that touched down in North Texas Dec. 26, killing 11, according to the National Weather Service in Dallas.

Pruitt, who also lives in Rowlett, said his home suffered minor damages, while residences a few houses and blocks away were destroyed.

“I was traveling to Jewett to preach when my wife called to tell me the tornado sirens were going off,” Pruitt told the TEXAN. “We have four kids under 10, and they all moved to the bathroom to hunker down. Five minutes later she called to tell me it was over.”

Pruitt returned home to find a two-by-four had smashed through a window, showering glass on the sofa where his family sat moments before.

Kay Burns, the grandmother of Pruitt’s wife, was less fortunate. Burns’s neighborhood is about two miles from Pruitt’s and suffered extensive damage. A huge tree in Burns’s backyard was down, and a large piece of plywood pierced her roof. The next day’s rains caused the kitchen and a bedroom to collapse.

“Hey, don’t I know you?” one of the chainsaw volunteers asked Pruitt, recognizing him from his preaching engagement, as the team assisted Burns.

“They came over and began to cut limbs. Some folks from C3 Rowlett [Connection Community Church, where the Pruitts and Mrs. Burns attend] moved limbs and debris as they were cutting,” Pruitt said. When the tree was cut, limbs removed and backyard cleared, First Bellville’s Rick Evans offered to cut the remaining part of the stump into a cross.

Burns, a widow, had talked of selling her home in the aftermath of the storm, but Pruitt said, “Now she does not want to move. I just feel that the men taking the time to cut that cross offered an extra step of healing. She wants to stay in the house, and she plans to carve the date into the cross, so that the next family will know what that is about.”

“A year from now, we’ll be gone. She won’t remember us.
But the cross will remain.”

Mike Phillips, DR chainsaw volunteer

“A year from now, we’ll be gone. She won’t remember us. But the cross will remain,” Mike Phillips, DR chainsaw volunteer, noted.

The cross in Burns’s yard had an additional effect. Crowds of onlookers came to photograph it. Many commented that they planned to do the same thing with stumps in their yards, Pruitt said. “It was a calming, healing moment. She [Burns] took a deep breath, smiled and laughed. The cross is a reminder of hope.”

Rowlett homeowners Dan and Bonnie Rangel were home with three of their eight children when the tornado sirens sounded.

“We grabbed pets and kids and piled into the master bedroom closet,” Dan Rangel said. “We felt the pressure and heard the noise like a train. It was all over in 30 to 45 seconds.”

Although homes surrounding theirs and one block over were destroyed, the Rangel house suffered minimal damage, yet a towering live oak tree in the front yard was hit hard. Large limbs hung precariously, threatening further damage to the home and the safety of the residents.

“I feel guilty that I’m just worried about a tree limb,” Rangel, a former Marine, said as chainsaw team leader Monte Furrh of Bonham assured him that the situation needed attention.

After the chainsaw team cut and removed limbs, Bonnie Rangel asked if they would cut some pieces of a large limb for her.

“That tree bore the brunt of the storm,” Rangel said. At the core of the cut portion of the fallen limb was a heart-shaped ring.

“Miracles do happen,” Rangel said, tearfully holding a wooden piece. “God is real. I am going to carve that into the tree.” As for the cut pieces with the heart shape at the core, Rangel will use them to remind her family of the tornado and the day they were helped.

Twenty-three SBTC volunteers in chainsaw, clean up and recovery, laundry and shower, feeding, assessments, and chaplaincy served in Rowlett and Garland the week following the storm, said Dewey Watson, DR white hat or incident leader. Watson himself was in Rowlett the Sunday following the storm to assess the area and make plans for the deployment. Furrh soon joined him after first working in Farmersville and Copeville with other SBTC DR teams.

SBTC volunteers were housed at First Baptist Church in Rockwall and joined hundreds from national relief agencies and other church groups in helping the people of Rowlett and Garland begin to dig out of the devastation.

New teams rotated in over the weekend to continue relief efforts under the leadership of white hat Doug Scott. As of Jan. 3, SBTC workers had assessed 45 jobs in Garland and Rowlett, completing 35 with more expected.