Sights and Lessons After a Tornado

If you don’t regularly find yourself at Preston and Royal, or Walnut Hill and Marsh, for that matter, you wouldn’t have a difficult time forgetting that a tornado walloped north Dallas on Oct. 20.

But business owners, residents, and students who found their homes, livelihoods, and places to learn decimated in seconds will never forget.

“Do you think it resonates that tornadoes don’t care about how much your house is worth or how much you make a year?”

To see the toy store you routinely use as “incentive/bribery” to get fidgety children through a sit-down dinner at a restaurant, the book store that always provided book lovers a cozy home away from home, and the grocery stores where you could always count on finding exactly what you need – even on Thanksgiving Day – shuttered thanks to 140-mile-per-hour wind and flying debris is sobering.

To know that many of the owners of those businesses were local – and even considered friends and family – was heartbreaking.

I began covering this tornado from my linen closet on that Sunday night. Early Monday morning, I left my home with my camera and managed to walk near the destruction wrought on the Preston and Royal intersection.

There were buildings without windows, buildings without roofs, and mannequins on a clothing store floor, flung there after windows blew out, but for all the world looking like they, too, had taken cover.

I eventually made my way over to Walnut Hill and Midway, where Walnut Hill Elementary sat, pummeled by the same tornado. It was stunning to think about how different these stories we reporters wrote over the past few weeks could have been if this tornado had struck at noon on a Monday, instead of 9 p.m. on a Sunday during a Dallas Cowboys game.

It was hard to picture all that chaos calming anytime soon. But remarkable things began to happen. Dallas ISD was able to put thousands of students back in classrooms in three days. Communities and neighbors rallied to help each other and the most vulnerable victims of the storm, the students permanently displaced from their campuses.

A documentary production team reached out to me two weeks after the tornado, and asked, “Do you think it resonates that tornadoes don’t care about how much your house is worth or how much you make a year?”

It does. But what resonates more is that in the aftermath, the communities that rolled up sleeves to help didn’t either.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected]

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