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SBTC DR assists victims of Bowie EF-1 tornado

May 28th, 2020 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

BOWIE  Following a downtown parade earlier that day, Bowie High School’s graduating seniors eagerly anticipated their outdoor graduation scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, May 22, at Jackrabbit Stadium, weather permitting.

Weather did not permit.

Bowie ISD superintendent Blake Enlow canceled commencement an hour before its planned start. Shortly after, Bowie residents hunkered down as tornado sirens blared at 8:28 p.m. and an EF-1 tornado ripped through town, destroying or damaging hundreds of homes and businesses, the Bowie News reported.

With the city still reeling from COVID-19 shutdowns, the tornado added to the plight of residents.

Expressing thanks that the city had no fatalities or injuries, Mayor Gaylynn Burris urged citizens to watch out for their neighbors, especially senior citizens.

“We are not alone,” she said.

SBTC DR on scene quickly

Bowie is not alone. Among groups deploying beginning May 23 to assist victims were Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers.

The SBTC DR quick response kitchen unit from First Baptist Leonard came Saturday, May 23, setting up operations at the Bowie police station, feeding first responders, volunteers and community members. 

A chainsaw team from First Baptist Melissa came May 24, followed by another from First Baptist Pflugerville on May 26, all joined by chaplains, assessors, skid steer crews, a shower and laundry unit with personnel, a command post and a towable man lift.

“White hat” or incident leader Glenda Watson confirmed that as of Wednesday, 21 SBTC DR volunteers were on site, housed at Southside Baptist Church, which suffered tornado damage, including the loss of its steeple.

DR crews are working in the areas off Wilbarger Street, Watson said, adding that recent rainfall has hampered recovery efforts, leaving ground soggy and footing treacherous.

Paid in full

The muddy, forested terrain challenges chainsaw workers, bogging down skid steers, said David Dean, leader of the Pflugerville crew.

“The ground is very soft underneath. The top looks like regular ground, then it sinks,” Dean explained, adding that teams hope to make use of the man lift as conditions dry out.

“We can get a lot more work done if we can get high in the trees to cut down the hangers or widow makers,” Dean said, referring to damaged limbs and branches that threaten to break off and blow down.

Jesse Hauptrief, who heads the Melissa crew, described helping Lee and Louise Jones, an elderly couple who lost a huge hackberry tree to the storm. The tree, with its 40-inch-diameter trunk, sprawled across the Joneses’ backyard and into other trees on the property behind, leaving a mass of intertwined limbs.

Hauptrief offered to remove the fallen tree and clean up the yard.

“What will it cost me?” Lee Jones asked.

“The usual. Nothing. It’s been paid for by Christ’s blood,” Hauptrief answered as Jones teared up. “He couldn’t believe it,” Hauptrief added, noting that crews did additional work at the residence, praying with the couple before and after the jobs. 

Among others, Hauptrief’s crew cut up a massive pecan tree felled by the storm for widowed homeowner Delores Lowery. 

“I just feel so blessed that you are here to help,” Lowery told Hauptrief.

A tree had fallen across the porch of the 100-year-old three-story home of Lowery’s neighbor, Lanny Hunt. After DR crews finished work at the home, Hauptrief came to say goodbye while Hunt was talking to a woman from county health and human services.

“I told him we wanted to pray with him and leave a Bible with him. He just broke down,” Hauptrief said, adding that the HHS representative asked if she could join them in prayer, her faith indicative of the community’s spiritual depth.

Later, crews used the man lift to clear the home of the manager of Bowie’s Dos Chiles restaurant. She invited them to come for a meal.

“There’s a lot of nice folks here,” DR chaplain Debby Nichols said. “We’ve prayed with a lot of folks and listened to their stories.”

COVID-19 and DR

The effusive Nichols admitted pandemics call for restraint. Hugs are rare and masks are the rule. Watson noted that DR crews are monitoring their temperatures and socially distancing in Southside Baptist church.

“When I go in the grocery story or to a Wal-Mart, I wear a mask, and I have a mask on my chin as I approach homeowners. If I get close to someone, or if I am inside, I put it on,” Nichols said, admitted that she “missed” getting to hug people.

“Someday,” Nichols said, wistfully.

Chaplain Pat Warren, whose husband is on staff at First Baptist Wimberley, deployed with the Pflugerville team and engaged in a long conversation with a Mormon from Bowie. The two talked about John 3:16 and their differences in faith.

Warren also works a chainsaw, wielding the new tool her husband gave her for her upcoming birthday.

 “We are pleased to help the people of Bowie and Montague County,” SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said, adding that crews may continue working through next week and are exploring the possibility of deploying near Whitesboro following a high wind event.

As for Glenda Watson, she leaves Friday, May 29, to celebrate her golden anniversary with long-time DR task force member Dewey Watson.

“I have a date with the man I’ve been married to for 50 years,” Watson said.