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'Everything Was Gone In Seconds,' Collin County Tornado Survivors Say

Stella M. Chávez
A child care center was among the businesses destroyed by the Collin County tornado. The debris included this doll of the character Ernie in Sesame Street.

Saturday’s tornado destroyed numerous homes and businesses in rural Collin County. Two people died near a feed store in Copeville and an infant died 20 minutes north in Blue Ridge. 

Along a busy stretch of State Highway 78, there used to be a gas station and a convenience store. There was also a day care center and a feed store.

Now, there’s just rubble.

Abdullah Zahoor leases and manages what was once Willards Hilltop Grocery. He was there when Saturday’s deadly tornado struck.

“I’m inside the store, but God gave me new life,” Zahoor said, as he sifted through the twisted metal, broken wood planks and pieces of insulation.

“Everything [is] gone,” he said. “You know? I’m inside the store. I run by the cooler, and everything [was] gone in seconds.”

On the ground were only pieces of what was once here.

Tires, gas pump signs, Lifesavers and candy canes, an Ernie doll from Sesame Street.

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
This rubble is what's left of a gas station and convenience store off State Highway 78 in Copeville. A child care center and feed store were also destroyed. Two people were killed by the storm here.

Mike Dobbs, who’s with the North Texas Disaster Response Team, has been out here with his crew.

“This is … horrible. I mean everything’s been taken to the ground. There’s nothing standing,” he said. “Several people died right here and we’re just trying to get everything taken care of and making sure there ain’t nobody else.”

Across the street is what’s left of a fireworks stand.

Laurie Davis drove over from McKinney with her son, Daniel, and daughter, Jessica, to see how they could help. They noticed American flags strewn across the property.

“We just stopped here from dropping off all the donations and everything and they saw these flags down,” she said.

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
Daniel Davis stopped along State Highway 78 in Copeville, to put up American flags that had been strewn across what was once a fireworks stand.

In the distance, son Daniel hoisted a flag and pressed its pole into the ground. A few minutes later, several flags were lined up along the road.

In nearby Farmersville, staff and volunteers at First Baptist Church were busy collecting donations. Things like canned goods, clothing, blankets, pet food.

Pastor Bart Barber said he’s driven around the areas ravaged by the storm.

“It’s the kind of thing that you typically see with a tornado,” he said. “You have houses that are missing a few shingles. You have houses that have nothing, just the slab is all that’s left. One house that’s got a gun safe standing up untouched in midst of a debris field that covers an acre.”

Barber knows many people in this community. Their stories of loss and survival nearly bring him to tears.

“I know of three widows, two of whom lost their husbands in the last couple of months, who completely lost everything,” he said. “Lost the homes they lived in for 50 years and, and … ”

Barber pauses.

“I’m sorry. And along with that, all the memories of living there with their husbands.”

One of those widows sought shelter from the storm in her pantry. Barber says the door slammed shut after she was inside.

When the tornado had passed, she opened the pantry door.

All that was left standing was that room.

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
Bart Barber is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville. His congregation and volunteers have been collecting donations to help the tornado victims in Collin County.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.