CANTON, TEXAS – In Fruitvale, Ame York walks along US Highway 80, a rural stretch of East Texas uprooted by tornadoes over the weekend. York, a parishioner at the Fruitvale First Baptist Church, her son and several others stop at each impacted property in the area, handing out doughnuts and coffee.
“You know it is ashes right now. It looks like a war zone,” York says, pausing in front of a car flipped upside down next to a gutted home. “But there is beauty. Beauty In those ashes.”
York is focused on all of the help and support the community has received over the last 48 hours, a silver lining after a fatal weekend.
Residents continue to reel across East Texas after four tornadoes ripped through Van Zandt County Saturday evening. The National Weather Service has determined two of the tornadoes were EF-0s, the other two were EF-3s with wind speeds up to 165 miles per hour.
Four people were killed in Canton, an hour east of Dallas, and more than 50 were sent to nearby hospitals. A local car dealership took a direct hit, several trucks were tossed miles down the road. There’s debris everywhere; trees stripped bare and snapped in half; dozens of homes destroyed or severely damaged.
Dawn and Reagan Sumner are two lucky survivors. The married couple built the Rustic Barn, a red-roofed building just outside of Canton, so their son could have a nice wedding venue. Planning for retirement, the Sumners then turned the Rustic Barn into an event hall that was set to host the local prom Saturday night.
Forty-five minutes before the dance, the Sumners and a dozen others inside the barn received text alerts about tornadoes touching down in the area. They immediately took shelter inside two bathrooms and a half-sized closet underneath a set of stairs. The building shook and the power went out. Minutes later, all 15 emerged from their protective refuges and realized half the barn had been destroyed.
“When I walked out of that restroom and I looked to the left and saw sky, daylight and nothing, everything was just caved in... I almost lost it then,” Dawn Sumner said. She’s thankful the tornado did not hit the building during the prom when as many as 80 people may have been inside.
On Sunday afternoon, Governor Greg Abbott toured the hardest hit areas by helicopter.
“It looked like it in areas that were filled with trees, that were forests, it looked like they had been ripped down like tinker toys, just completely knocked down,” the governor told the media.
Van Zandt County has issued a disaster declaration and the cleanup has only started. At Fruitvale First Baptist Church, the pastor has stocked up on food and water as members of his church continue to help victims and pray for a quick recovery.