Rowlett: A tale of tragedy and resilience

Part 2 of a 2 part series

In the midst of chaos after an EF4 tornado hit Rowlett the day after Christmas 2015, something emerged from the ruins of the city: The overwhelming support of what people can bring.

“We had such an outpouring of support from our community and from our surrounding communities and that is absolutely essential to recovering from an event like this,” said Rowlett Mayor Tammy Dana-Bashian. “Regionally, statewide and nationally, we had people coming from all different states coming to help and that is incredibly important to recover from this from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint.”

A warning from the National Weather Service confirmed residents’ worst fears.

“This is an extremely dangerous storm, and has caused extensive damage and possibly injuries near Rowlett. If you are in the path of this storm, take cover immediately to protect your life!”

As the tornado lifted over Lake Ray Hubbard, residents of Rowlett were left to realize the unthinkable had just happened. Destruction was everywhere, changing the lives of many. It was a historic event for Rowlett.

Dana-Bashian described it as, “The most significant event in the history of the City of Rowlett.” A snowstorm that hit Rowlett in 2013 was the most significant event until the tornado struck two years later. “We’ve had a bad ice storm two years prior to that. We thought that was pretty significant but no, this [event] was the worst time in the history of Rowlett,” Dana-Bashin said.

Ann Dotson, senior pastor with First Christian Church of Rowlett, was there to support those who were affected. The church had suffered damage as well.

“The church had no power. We had a couple of trees that went through our roof and things like that but we immediately opened our church buildings and [started] gathering food and clothing and feeding people and taking care of the first responders and gathering up resources and supplies but the whole community was basically in shock,” Dodson said.

Karen Cuttill, a licensed professional counselor at Richland College and crisis responder, described her work at the scene.

“A lot of it was sorting through [rubble] and helping [homeowners] look for a specific thing they were looking for. And sometimes, we just sat with the homeowners and gave them a chance to take a breath and just talk about what they’re going through,” Cuttill said. “While I was working in the main command center, it was a bit different. We did a kind of referral to a table and there were two, three of us there and we would help them find a current place to go. Sometimes people would come in really emotional and we would just sit and talk with them and then help them get to where they needed to go.”

Dotson said the community received support from many organizations that took meals to those affected.

“Hundreds, hundreds of people came. Operation Barbecue Relief fed 36,000 meals,” Dodson said. “They took them [the meals] out, people came in, first responders took them out, they prepared meals for Salvation Army and the Red Cross to take out into the neighborhood. But we know that there were 36,000 meals and a whole building worth of supplies given out.”

Although the tornado remains a historic event in Rowlett, the city and the community have moved on, although the storm left a scar for many.

“They’re still fearful when it rains or [when] there’s a weather alert. They are very fearful that it’s going to happen again so they’re kind of anxious and you can see it all over their Facebook pages,” Dodson said. “They [community members] are much more united and in helping one another in all sorts of things than I’ve seen in previous years.”

Although much of the city has been rebuilt, some residents were not able to or decided not to return.

“Maybe less than 10 individual locations have not been rebuilt and are sitting as slabs of a foundation. If residents were not able to rebuild and they had to move away, they sold their lots and those lots have turned over. But as far as, you know, physical recovery, pretty much it’s complete,” Dana-Bashian said.