One killed in Chico wreck

The driver of a passenger car was killed in a wreck with an 18-wheeler Monday morning.

The accident occurred around 5:40 near the intersection of Texas 101 and County Road 1786, north of Chico.

More information will be posted as it becomes available.

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Your Views on the Tornado


Our sincere thanks goes to all those who dedicated their time to help clean up at our home after the tornado in Paradise. Everyone put forth full effort immediately after the storms. Friends, family and people we didn’t even know came to help and didn’t leave until the work was completed.

We would also like to thank Richey Oil Field Construction, Paradise United Methodist Church and the Red Cross. We would still be working on cleaning up if it wasn’t for those who donated their time and equipment.

It is very heartwarming to know that we live in a community where people are so caring.

Brian and Alison Read


My wife and I married in 1947 and have lived in Decatur all our married life. Like most towns and communities Decatur and the surrounding communities have caring people, and when needs arise they come to the rescue. But, last weekend was not the usual case. The sirens had hardly quit sounding when neighbors began checking on each other. Many lost electricity, car parts, had roof and utility line damage, etc. Many of the utility people, city workers and phone companies worked way into the night. By daylight Saturday morning, more workers were descending on Decatur and Paradise. The city of Denton sent 17 trucks to help in the cleanup.

Firemen were on the scene along with medical personnel and EMS services. Most of the workers were volunteers. Also members of churches were out working and rubbing shoulders with complete strangers. Of course, we cannot begin to name all who had a part in the cleanup that has been going all week in Paradise and Decatur. It is amazing and almost incredible to see such unselfish service that has come out of a disastrous situation. It restores our faith in humankind. We know God is pleased when His people put their faith in action. May His blessings be on each of you.

Charles Wilhite


I want to express my thanks to everyone who helped with the cleanup in Paradise after the tornado last weekend.

There was a great outpouring of people who came to our rescue with saws, rakes, pickups, trucks, trailers, bulldozers, moving machinery and hands-on labor.

A great big thank you goes to Mike Richey Oil Field Construction who brought trucks, trailers, work crews and machinery to move and lift the huge trees to be hauled out of town. We also thank Starnes Construction, Leslie Oates Trucking, Willie Watkins Trucking and many, many other individuals who came in Friday night and Saturday.

Lots of organizations had a hand in this effort including the Wise County Sheriff’s Department, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Paul Wood, TXI’s Sand and Gravel Plant in Paradise; television channels 5 and 8, fire departments from Boyd, Cottondale, Bridgeport and Salt Creek. The Fire Department of the Joint Naval Reserve Base at Carswell Field in Fort Worth donated equipment to our fire department.

The Red Cross of North Texas volunteers and the Salvation Army donated their time and services. The Finish Line Cafe in Paradise donated food to the workers all day.

I apologize if I have missed anyone. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to everyone who helped with this disaster cleanup. If not for all those great and generous people, we would still be trying to dig out of the rubble.

Although our town may be even smaller than it was before – we still have a big spirit.

Thanks again to everyone.

Gay Read


I witnessed the work of love and human kindness Saturday as a group of fine young ladies and young men worked like Trojans clearing away the debris left by the terrible tornado which I was in the midst of. Don’t tell me we don’t have a wonderful group of young people in Decatur, and older people also. I don’t know your names, but I want to thank you, young and old, for your help in this hour of adversity.

I especially want to thank the fine young man and his wife who used his backhoe and other equipment to clear away the mess. They let me know real quick they were Christians and loved the Lord. Thank you and God bless you. You are a wonderful bunch of people.

Thanks to our law enforcement, you performed very well. We are proud to be citizens of Decatur.

Thanks to the ladies who brought the delicious food. All in all, what a spirit of love and kindness in an hour of need like this.

With greatest respect.

L.A. Whatley

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Twister shakes house, but not faith

By Lydia Tilbury Hair
Originally published Sunday, October 21, 2001

Many things were shaken the night of Oct. 12 when a tornado hit Decatur, but one thing that was not shaken was Janie Pannell’s faith in God and his protection.

Sitting in her front yard, looking at what is left of her mobile home on County Road 3198 off of Farm Road 51 south of Decatur, she credits heavenly protection with her survival. And she credits her faith for the strength to face this latest tragedy.

Earlier this year her husband died and now she faces replacing her home – without insurance which she could not afford. But her spirit is strong and her gentle face wears a smile as she talks about God’s protection.

“I was praying so loud I couldn’t even hear the wind,” she says.

Alerted to the tornado warning for Wise County by her son, who called her from Fort Worth at about 7:40 p.m. that night, she was unsure at first what to do.

“I asked him if he thought I needed to get in the car and go somewhere else,” Pannell said. “But if I went somewhere else, what if they got hit instead.”

She decided to get in the bathtub and cover herself with thick quilts only seconds before the twister hit.

“The house was just shaking and shaking and when I felt the wind I knew it had come apart. It was the roof.” she said. “I lay there a minute thinking what I should do, then I decided to get out of there before the place fell in on me. I have lived here for 21 years and I have seen storms come and go but I have never seen anything this devastating.”

Going to her front door, she found it barricaded by a pile of debris. Pushing as hard as she could, after several tries she finally got out and into her car. Then she found trees blocking the road and was forced to turn around. When lightning illuminated the night, she saw that her neighbor’s house was still standing and went there.

Her son’s mobile home just down the road and her neighbors’ homes were damaged also but Pannell’s home seems to have caught the worst of the tornado – before it moved on to inflict considerable damage in the Lipsey Addition.

Pannell, a member of Grace Baptist Church in Decatur, is staying with her son now, noting that while his home is damaged, it is still livable.

“I thought about that scripture in Psalms where it says that I have no fear and I trust in God so what can man do to me,” she said. “My faith is strong. This is not going to shake my faith.”

Pannell was not the only family member to have an adventure that night. Her dog, Mary, ended up a quarter mile away in a neighbor’s garage.

“I had closed in Mary and George (Pannell’s cat) on the back porch and the only thing I know is that Mary was in the neighbor’s garage and George didn’t show up until Sunday morning.”

Pannell’s daughter, Kathy Post, said they do not know if the dog ran to the neighbor’s or if she was picked up by the twister and deposited in the garage. Looking at the porch now, it is easy to see that at some point the tornado detached the porch from the rest of the home. Whatever Mary’s mode of transportation down the road, she obviously remembers the experience.

“She stays close to me all the time now, doesn’t want me out of her sight.” Pannell says as she rubs the dog’s head. “And she will not go on that back porch, even to eat. My granddaughter picked her up and put her on the back porch and Mary got out of there fast.”

What was George the cat’s experience? Typically feline, he’s not talking.

“God was so gracious,” Pannell says. “Two-thirds of the house was destroyed, but if that tornado had come lower, I would not be here.”

In the mysterious way tornadoes have, items in the living room and kitchen were not moved, while the other end of the mobile home had walls and roof torn away. Pannell’s clothes and most of her personal items were also untouched.

She wants to rebuild in the same spot, but this time she wants a house – not another mobile home. Without homeowners’ insurance to replace what she lost, she faces financial obstacles.

But worry is not something she seems to do, believing her help will come from the God she trusted to get her through the storm.

“It is so amazing, that God in his mercy and grace spared my clothing and furniture,” Pannell says. “Even though there was a tornado, he just protects you in his way. And everybody, everybody, has just been so sweet to me, helping me.”

Perhaps they just think being around Pannell is the place to be.

“One of my neighbors said ‘I want to stand close to you, angels are all around you.'” Pannell related.

No one has to convince her of that.

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Siren: ‘Room for improvement’

By Brian Knox
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

Decatur’s tornado warning system received its first test under “real” conditions last Friday night, but it is hard to say if it was a success.

“If no one was killed it will be successful if people heard it. I think there is room for improvement,” Police Chief Rex Hoskins said.

The tornado siren system was activated after two police officers and several firemen near the Lipsey Addition in the south part of Decatur first spotted a tornado heading for the town.

Hoskins said the siren cannot be sounded unless instructed by the National Weather Service or with visual verification locally. The siren is only activated when a tornado is sited, not when severe weather is in the area.

The siren lasts for three minutes, and Hoskins said he received verification that the sirens did sound at four of the five siren locations around town. The only siren he had yet to verify was one near the Decatur Civic Center.

“Not only were the sirens going off, but we were actually driving through residential areas with our sirens going off to attempt to warn people. The fire department was doing the same,” Hoskins said.

While many Decatur residents who had their homes damaged or destroyed by the tornado heard the sirens, most said they had almost no time to prepare.

Leah Lewis, whose home was destroyed by a tornado, said she did not hear the siren. Martha Telemontes at the Diamond Shamrock store on Hale Street that suffered damage heard the siren, but not until the strong winds were already pelting the store. Charles Cocanougher and Kathy Salinas, who both live on Old Denton Road and sustained major damage to their homes, said they did hear the siren, but only when the tornado was already bearing down on them.

“I heard the siren almost instantaneously as the tornado hit,” Cocanougher said.

After the first siren, the tornado was already hitting the Lipsey Addition and Hoskins attempted to start the siren again when much of the town lost electricity.

Hoskins said there is no backup power supply for the sirens when the town loses electricity.

The tornado warning system was installed in August of 2000.


TOTAL LOSS - The Eddy Grundy home on Old Denton Road was another that was made inhabitable by Friday night's tornado. Grundy was uninjured even though the walls of the house "exploded." Messenger photo by Lydia Tilbury Hair

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Convenience clerk was witness to tornado

By Mitch Word
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

Martha Talamantes, a clerk at the Circle 1 Stop, 608 E. Hale in Decatur, was a first-hand witness to the devastating storm.

“It was a little after eight, and I was getting ready to leave,” she said. “Then I heard the wind open the door. I tried to keep the door closed, and that’s when I saw the storm hit.”

Talamantes, who has been a clerk at the store for three years, said she saw debris blowing down the street in front of the store.

Then she looked out to her right and saw a frightening sight.

“I could see the storm tearing down the roof off the building outside,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure in my ears from the wind. I could hear the (tornado) siren going off and I saw trees being blown over across the street.

“The power went off and on right before the storm hit, then it went out during the storm and everything was completely dark. There wasn’t much rain, but there was a lot of wind.”

Talamantes said she didn’t panic during the storm despite her close proximity to the danger.

“I wasn’t really scared while it was going on, but after it passed I realized I had just been in a tornado,” she said.


RIDIN' THE STORM OUT - Circle 1 Stop employee Martha Talamantes witnessed the storm from the front door of the business on Hale Street in Decatur Friday. Messenger photo by Mitch Word

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Tornado wreaks havoc along Old Denton Road

By Lydia Tilbury Hair
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

Charles ‘Doc’ Cocanougher stood in the road, in the wind and rain, looking down the valley across from his home on Old Denton Road and saw the flash of fallen electric lines and transformers moving in succession toward him.

“I knew it was on the ground and it was coming this way fast,” he said of one of the tornadoes that hit Wise County Friday night.

Running back into his house he told his wife Jo Ann that they had to take shelter. The two barely had time to get into the bathtub and pull sofa cushions on top of them when it hit.

“It lasted less than 30 seconds,” he recounts. “We could hear glass breaking and things hitting the house. Then it got deathly still. Three or four minutes later, we ventured out.”

The damage done to their house has forced the Cocanoughers to move out. Large trees rest against it, a porch is gone, the front entrance was damaged, windows knocked out and the roof was picked up then put back down. Cocanougher’s truck was picked up and moved 20-25 feet, hitting the front of the house and a stone wall. A travel trailer parked behind the house was also moved and a gazebo that was in the back yard is gone. Cocanougher is not sure where it is, but out in the pasture behind the house, white two-by-fours can be seen sticking up out of the ground where they were driven by the twister.

“I guess that might be part of my gazebo,” he says as he drives a tractor past the stark white boards that stand throughout the rolling field, as discordant reminders of the night before.

“We were gonna bale hay here today, but I guess now we will just let the cattle graze,” he says. “There is too much stuff out here.”

Walking along surveying the various objects that now lay all over his field, from sheets of tin to grandchildren’s toys, he stops at only one item, an American flag, that he picks up.

From the pasture it is easy to see what the tornado could have done if it had moved in a different direction. Down a hill from the Cocanougher place is a mobile home park. Instead of the destruction one associates with a tornado and mobile homes, the only damage that occurred was that a couple of the homes were moved off their blocks, Cocanougher says.

And up the hill, not that far from the Cocanoughers, sits the Waggoner mansion as it has since 1883, standing untouched, but it was a close call. One has to wonder, how many tornadoes it has seen in its 118 years of standing on that hill.

There was some humor in the experience for the family. Cocanougher points to his son Gary’s house across the road in the valley. The tornado deposited a portable toilet in the yard.

“We can’t find the door to it and we don’t know where the thing came from, but it’s in his yard now,” laughs Cocanougher.

Next door to Cocanougher the home of Eddy Grundy and his family is being abandoned. The tornado has left it uninhabitable too.

Like other families Friday night, they had the television tuned to The Weather Channel at about 8 p.m.

“The alert came across the TV and then it went blank,” says Grundy. “I put my wife and kids in the closet and looked outside. I could tell by the way the poles were moving that something was coming.”

Then Grundy heard the siren.

“I went to shut the windows and the lights exploded all over the house, just like firecrackers going off,” he describes. “Then the walls exploded. It blew me through the house and the roof was taken off.”

Debris began to hit his vehicles, virtually totaling them. When it was all over, the family was unhurt.

“But part of my house is over the hill on (U.S.) 380 and the roof is on the patio,” Grundy says. “And of course the trees are all gone.”

The next house down belongs to the Salinas family. In the clear light of day, Kathy Salinas sits at her dining table with her mother, Carolyn Felix. There is no electricity and the family is staying at a motel, unable to stay in the heavily damaged home.

“There are cracks all over the house,” she says. “We are going to have to have someone check the structure. It lifted the roof off and sat it back down. We had water coming out of the vents.”

Friday night, Salinas was on the phone with her mother. “All she could say to me was ‘Mom, I want out of here,'” Felix remembers. “Then she said ‘There goes the siren'”

Salinas said that everybody took shelter. She and her daughter in the closet, someone else in the bathroom and her husband and his friend just lay on the living room floor.

“The house started shaking, we heard stuff hitting the house and glass breaking everywhere,” she said. “We stayed in the closet until my husband came and got us.”

A two car garage was gone, what was stored inside left in a mound of debris beside the house. A barn in back of the house was gone and a porch now sat in the back yard. A goat shelter was set down on U.S. 380, but the five goats it housed were unharmed.

Felix, a worried mother, could not get to her daughter and family. The police had Old Denton Road closed off from both ends. The family stayed at the home until a group of Alvord firemen carried them out.

“And they said they just happened up on us,” Salinas said. “I just wanted to get out of here.”

As in other parts of Wise County hit by the tornado, the people along Old Denton Road marvel that there were no injuries or deaths. Well, almost no injuries.

“My daughter is very worried,” says Salinas. “She can’t find her cat and the kittens it had.”


LEFT BEHIND - Items stored in a garage were left behind after the building was blown away at this residence on Old Denton Road. At least three homes sustained damage when a tornado hit Friday night. Messenger photo by Lydia Tilbury Hair

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‘All of a sudden, the whole building started shaking’

By Brian Knox
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

When a Boyd couple, in Decatur to do a little grocery shopping, decided to seek shelter from a powerful storm Friday night, little did they know they were moving right into the path of a tornado.

Sam and Qzella Petty had just finished their shopping when the high winds and rain starting to pelt the town. They had heard on the radio that the storm was capable of producing tornadoes.

Instead of trying to drive back to Boyd, the couple looked for a place to take shelter.

“I was looking for a place to park my truck because I was afraid it was going to start hailing,” Sam Petty said.

Petty soon noticed an overhang at the front entrance of Fit-n-Wise and pulled up to the facility.

He saw custodians inside the building and he walked up to the glass. A cleaning lady came to the door and asked if the couple would like to come inside.

Once inside, the couple watched the storm move in from the glass foyer.

After about ten minutes, the Pettys noticed something odd.

“We were standing at the windows and all of a sudden everything got very calm. Then all of a sudden, the whole building started shaking,” he said.

Moments before, during the brief calm, Qzella turned and saw the door behind them slowly start to close. She rushed over and held the door open while the two quickly made their way back into the building.

“Our backs had just cleared the doorway when we heard an explosion. Suddenly glass was flying everywhere. The door went flying about 30 to 40 feet into the building,” Petty said.

The Pettys and the custodial staff ran farther back into the building. Petty said a maintenance man was hit by a piece of debris and fell down, injuring himself. As it turned out, that was the only injury reported in Decatur as a result of the tornado.

The group huddled in a corner near the center of the building. Overhead, bits of glass flew against the wall as ceiling tiles began to blow away and lights began to fall from the ceiling.

The only sound they could hear was a loud roaring as the tornado staked out its destructive path.

Power went out, temporarily leaving the group in total darkness for a few seconds before the emergency generator restored some power to the building.

Then, almost as suddenly as it had appeared, the roaring stopped, and the wind subsided.

The group stood up and walked back towards the entrance to inspect the damage.

“We walked back to the front and saw just how lucky we were,” Petty said. “There were big chunks of glass stuck in the wall right where we had been standing moments earlier.”

Despite having small pieces of glass stuck in their hair and clothing, Petty said he and his wife received no cuts at all.

The metal frame at the front of the building was bent and it appeared some flying debris had struck it, but Petty said that was impossible.

“I know it was not flying debris that bent that pole because my truck was parked right in front of the doors and it didn’t have a scratch on it,” he said.

In a bit of irony, Petty said the only reason they were in Decatur grocery shopping is because the grocery store in Boyd was destroyed by an ice storm this past winter.

While the storm has passed, some of the effects of the storm have not.

“My wife is still not over it. She still hasn’t been able to sleep since that night,” Petty said Monday.


ANYBODY SEEN A ROOF? - Signs of the tornado's path was not only seen in Paradise and Decatur but northeast of Decatur as well. This hay barn roof near County Road 2224, about three miles northeast of Decatur, was blown about 50 yards from the barn into a grove of trees during Friday's storm. Several old, large trees in the area were also blown over. Messenger photo by Brian Knox

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Clean-up from tornado in Decatur reveals spirit of cooperation

By Brian Knox
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

City, county and state agencies along with next door neighbors have all banded together to pick up the pieces left behind from Friday night’s tornado.

Numerous agencies have offered their assistance in the clean-up process including the City of Decatur, Wise County Sheriff’s Department, Texas Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety, Federal Emergency Manage-ment Agency (FEMA), local fire departments and the Wise County Emergency Medical Service.

Precinct 2 Commissioner James Hubbard said nine county vehicles were used Friday night during the initial clean-up process.

Decatur City Administrator Brett Shanon said that the City of Bridgeport has also sent work crews to help.

The City of Denton also sent about 20 employees to Decatur over the weekend to help clean up fallen trees and brush. Also, crews from Denton’s drainage, solid waste, streets, parks and recreation and water and wastewater departments came to assist the city.

Utility companies like TXU, Wise Electric Cooperative, Sprint and cable companies have worked around the clock to restore services to customers.

Vic Morton, TXU Decatur area manager, said the storm knocked out power at 3,300 accounts, mostly in the Decatur and Paradise area.

Power was restored to all customers whose houses were not too badly damaged by the storms by around midnight Saturday.

Help in restoring power came from several different areas. In addition to 66 TXU employees – who came from Wichita Falls, Lake Dallas, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Plano, Mineral Wells, Graham and Brownwood – 22 contract employees were brought in to build overhead lines and 41 tree trimming employees helped clear trees off powerlines.

Several private contractors have offered their services as well as countless volunteers.

“Help came not only from neighbors of the people who were hit but from people all over town. I’m sure there were even people who came from out of town to help,” Shannon said.

Shannon estimated that the cleanup will probably take a minimum of several weeks and could last for over a month, but he quickly added that work crews are making “unbelievable progress.”

“Just looking at some of the neighborhoods Friday night and early Saturday night and then seeing them today (Tuesday), it’s amazing how much debris has been removed and how much progress the utility companies have made restoring services,” he said.

Shannon said that people who need to repair their homes due to damage from Friday night’s tornado should come to city hall to get a building permit, but the fees will be waived.

“We would like to get as many permits as we can so we can find out what residents were hit as a matter of record,” he said.

In addition to the news that nobody was seriously injured, Shannon said another positive to come out of the ordeal is how it brought a community together.

“Hopefully the community became a little tighter because of all of this. I would venture to guess that there are some neighbors who know their neighbors a little better now because they were out there elbow to elbow cleaning up each other’s yards,” he said.

County Judge L.B. McDonald, Decatur Mayor Bobby Wilson and Paradise Mayor Gerald Cleveland have signed a declaration of disaster for the county which will enable the cities to seek state and federal aid.


TREE CLIMBERS - Workers from Asplundh Company of Dallas spent all night Friday and all day Saturday working in the city of Decatur to assist in the removal of trees from powerlines following a devastating tornado that struck the city Friday night. The workers coordinated their efforts with TXU Electric. Messenger photo by Mitch Word

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Son’s warning may have helped keep mom safe

By Skip Nichols
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

David Talley is just eight years old, but he may have saved his mom’s life Friday night when a tornado touched down in the Lipsey Addition in Decatur.

David kept insisting his mother come into the closet because of warnings on television of approaching bad weather.

“I was turning off the computer and I heard a loud ‘pow,'”recalled Peggy Talley. “David came out of the closet where I told him to go and said, ‘Mom, the man said … ‘ so I finally got in there with him. Just before it hit, my ears popped – hard – and then it was over. I realize now the ‘pow’ was a transformer exploding as the tornado approached.”

The flying debris in the house, including pieces of glass, metal and wood, could have caused serious or even fatal injuries.

In the closet, they were safe.

Peggy Talley and her son were lucky. They suffered no injuries, but their home at 2908 Garland was virtually totaled.

Bob Talley, Peggy’s husband, is a pilot and was in Minnesota at the time the twister began its rampage through south Decatur.

After it was over, Peggy called her husband. It was their 10th anniversary.

“I just told him, ‘The house is gone. A tornado hit. We’re all right,’ ” she recalled as she stood in the yard of their once-beautiful home. “I was talking fast.”

Bob Talley came home the next morning on the first available flight.

What he found was the first house in the path of the tornado, whose winds were estimated at more than 160 miles per hour.

The scene reveals the power of the storm: shattered glass, a gaping hole in the roof, brick cracked and even bolts in a concrete driveway are sheared off from a carport that’s only twisted sheet metal.

Insulation from the hole in the roof is plastered on walls and covers the ground like a light February snowfall.

Peggy Talley found shreds of business papers in the yard – and a credit card in the attic.

Their dog, a Boston terrier who is afraid of storms, headed for the safety of the attached garage, which was not badly damaged. The dog, too, was uninjured.

In the back yard, the path of the tornado is plainly visible. It hit some trees on its way down, plowed into the Talley house and then dropped even more violently into the home where Leah Lewis was hiding underneath a recliner.

Lewis wasn’t hurt, but only a few cracked walls of her home are standing. Inside, glass angels remain undamaged on the Lewis’ fireplace mantel.

Across the street, at the Talley home, there is a big vacant spot in the front yard.

Missing is a huge tree where David used to swing and climb a rope.

“That’s the only thing that made me cry,” Peggy Talley said. “We can replace the house, but a tree like that … “

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Denton city crews help in Decatur clean-up

By Roy J. Eaton
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

If Decatur ever needed a friend, it needed one Friday night.

In the wake of the tornado’s devastation debris and fallen trees were scattered every where.

The City of Denton was quick to offer its help and Decatur city officials were just as quick to accept.

“We are glad to help our neighbor communities during a time of need,” said Denton City Manager Mike Conduff. “During the clean-up and recovery stage from any disaster, it is always good to know that you can call on other communities to pitch in and help.

Denton sent 20 employees to Decatur on Saturday and Sunday to help clean up brush and fallen trees. Crews from Denton’s Drainage, Solid Waste, Streets, Parks and Recreation as well as Water and Wastewater Utilities combined to offer help.

The Denton crews brought along 19 vehicles including six dump trucks, a brush chipper, a gradall and a front end loader.

“All of our crews really pulled together to work in this clean-up effort enthusiastically,” said Clark Rosendal, crew leader for Denton’s Drainage Department.

“This event was a learning experience for us,” said John Hudson, Denton’s Emergency Management Coordinator. “We had guys from several departments working together, some of whom had never met each other,” Hudson said.

Decatur City Administrator Brett Shannon and Street Superintendent Gary Lasater treated the Denton city crews with a lunch at Decatur City Hall after the clean-up effort on Sunday.

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Fire department needs help

By Lydia Tilbury Hair
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

Fire departments are always there for the public, but now the Paradise Fire Department needs the public to be there for them.

Friday’s tornado in Paradise has damaged or destroyed everything from the Paradise Fire Hall to the equipment the firemen wear, medical equipment and office equipment. All that is left of the fire hall are walls that are unsound.

The Red Cross has set up a fund to help the Paradise Volunteer Fire Department rebuild and re-equip. The fire trucks are undamaged but sit in the yard of the fire chief Michael Gayan. Firefighters fear that there will be freezing weather before they can find an enclosure for the trucks. If the water in the trucks freezes it will make it impossible to fight fires.

Jerriann Massey, a volunteer with the Red Cross, points out that the Paradise Volunteer Fire Department has 15 volunteers who have collectively logged more than 14,000 hours a year of volunteer time. They respond to emergencies within a 16-square mile area with a population of 2,500 people.

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Lipsey residents help each other after night of violence

By Lydia Tilbury Hair
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

Saturday morning dawns clear and windy in Decatur’s Lipsey Addition. But the light of day brings revelation of the wreckage left behind the night before when a tornado touched down as most were sitting down to supper or unwinding by watching television.

Pink insulation hangs in the trees like cotton candy, other large trees lay uprooted across houses or in yards. Shingles are peeled off roofs and lay among personal belongings that are scattered across yards, teddy bears, Christmas decorations, clothes and family pictures.

Residents of the Lipsey Addition walk up and down the streets, coffee mugs in hand, checking on the damage, checking on neighbors. Every now and then, someone will stop to pick up an object to return to its owner. The sound of chain saws and heavy machinery fill the air as the neighborhood begins to clean up, sharing their traditionally quiet neighborhood with insurance adjusters and news media.

Eddie Gonzales stands in his front yard on Lipsey Street watching as men on the roof of his house prepare to remove a large tree that has fallen across it.

“Heads up there,” he yells to others standing under the eves of the house as pieces of tree limbs are thrown to the ground.

“We had just left the house. I went to the clinic to pick up my wife and they wouldn’t let us leave,” Gonzales recounted. “My son phoned and told us that a tornado had hit Lipsey, but when the clinic let us leave, the police wouldn’t let us in here. So I parked and walked in.”

Gonzales says besides the fallen tree, his house has broken windows and half his fence is torn up.

“And part of someone’s roof is in my back yard,” he adds.

Carla and Terry Hartley walk down Lipsey Street with their son and daughter-in-law, Terry and Athena Hartley. They are among the lucky homeowners – they only had trees thrown against their house.

“We didn’t hear anything, just one big gust and some rain,” said Carla Hartley, whose home is one block from Lipsey Street on James. “The trees were uprooted and thrown against the house, it sucked the doors shut and we just hit the ground. We were just lucky.”

The younger Hartleys had just arrived ten minutes before the storm hit.

“We were eating out and heard there was a bad storm,” said Terry Hartley. Laughing, he added, “We decided to go to Mom’s until the storm passed.”

Cindy Munnerlyn and Blanca Nunez also move along the traffic-free streets Saturday morning. Munnerlyn, who lives on Lipsey Street, was watching The Weather Channel when the storm hit.

“The Weather Channel said Bridgeport had baseball-size hail so I started getting the kids together, but it was already on top of us. It was too late,” she said. “You just saw crosswinds, and I heard something hit my house.”

In her back yard, a 30-year-old tree lies uprooted, about to be cut into pieces by a man with a chainsaw.

“We just covered our heads with pillows,” she says. “We didn’t have time to do anything else.”

Farther down Lipsey Street, family members and friends of Larry and Kathy Pryor stand in the front yard of the Pryor home. They are looking at the mound of debris and twisted chain link fence in the yard. The fence moved 30 feet from where it was before the storm. A small sliver of wood is impaled in the side of the house, driven there by the winds of the tornado the Pryors never even heard.

They had just returned from the home of Charles and Deana Taylor, who live on U.S. 81/287.

“It seemed to me to be a strong wind,” said Kathy Pryor. “I stood out on the back porch and felt the wind and I went right back inside and got in the hall. We lost power before it hit. I didn’t even hear those sirens.”

“Sixty seconds and it was all over with,” Larry Pryor added. “We heard windows crashing. It was just so quick.”

Their son Ethan had trouble sleeping following the storm.

“He kept waking up, he was so scared it would come back,” said his mother.

The Taylors watched what was going on in town from their home on U.S. 81/287, knowing their friends had just gone in that direction. And as lightning illuminated the sky, they saw the funnel cloud and in the distance, the green and orange lights as electrical transformers resembled exploding bombs, said Charles Taylor.

And the funnel cloud?

“It looked like it was a mile wide,” he said.

It could have been worse in Lipsey Addition. The residents there will be the first to tell you that. No lives lost, not even any injuries. And clean-up is progressing well.

It will be a long time before they forget the night of Oct. 12.

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Paradise rallies in wake of tornado

By Lydia Tilbury Hair
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

On Saturday it looked as if every resident of Paradise was in the center of town. The sounds of chain saws and wood chippers filled the air and everywhere there were piles of tree limbs and debris.

At about 8 p.m. Friday a F2 tornado hit the small Wise County community with winds of 120 miles per hour. While it destroyed buildings, it obviously did not destroy the community spirit of the people.

Friday night, however, just after the tornado had done its work, spirits were low as members of the Paradise Fire Department stood looking at what was left of their new fire hall. It looked as if a giant had reached down, taken the roof off and tossed it into a yard a block away. All that was left were the brick walls that are now structurally unsound.

Gone were their communication tower, antennae, base radio and firefighting gear, everything that makes a fire department what it is. Medical equipment, a new computer … virtually everything in the building was taken away by the rotating winds. Luckily, the five fire trucks were not damaged.

Across the street, the old fire hall and an elevated water tank were a mass of twisted rubble. Facades of buildings down Main Street were collapsed and lay in the street.

The citizens of Paradise waited for morning, begin restoring their town.

Saturday morning, Valorie Snodgrass sat on the front porch of her mobile home that now had a large tree laying across the top. As she ate a biscuit and sausage she recalled the night before.

“We had just finished supper and we heard that a tornado had been spotted,” she said. “So we went to the storm cellar.”

Time was obviously something they paid close attention to while under the ground, Snodgrass knows exactly how many minutes passed until the tornado hit.

“In about eight minutes stuff started flying,” she says. “My son was scared and wanted to know what we would do if something landed on top of the door to the storm cellar. I told him we were underground and we were safe. We could always get out.”

When they came out of their sanctuary they found electric lines down and neighbors out also, viewing the damage.

What they saw was what looked like every tree in the neighborhood on the ground, on a building or in the street.

“They have been dragging whole trees out of here,” she said.

James Oates, who lives next door to the Snodgrass home, wasn’t in a storm cellar and felt the brunt of the twister.

“First it blew the end out of the house and the wind started going through, trying to suck me out the front door,” recounts Oates. “I was trying to keep the door closed and I was scared to death.”

Oates’ home is missing windows and has holes in the roof from falling trees which also damaged a mobile home he had on the property.

Friends yell at him in jest, telling him to quit talking and get down the road to help another neighbor as they drag huge tree limbs from the yard.

A block away, Glenn Gage stands in his front yard looking at the damage to his mobile home which has made it uninhabitable. The roof has been lifted up, pink insulation sticks out along the length of the structure. Windows are broken out and Gage says he has been told the home is twisted, a total loss.

“I was in Tennessee when my son called and told me what happened,” Gage recounts. “I drove straight here.”

He will stay with one of his daughters and put his things in storage.

Paradise will recover if its citizens are any indication. Even with the nature of the task before them, there were smiles and laughter as they worked.

As one man said, “It will take more than one tornado to do us in.”


A SENSE OF HUMOR - Despite the loss of a garage to Friday night's tornado, residents of this house on Park Street showed they still have a sense of humor. Messenger photo by Skip Nichols

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Twin tornadoes: Last Friday’s twisters leave paths of destruction in Paradise, Decatur

By Brian Knox, Lydia Tilbury Hair, and Skip Nichols
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

Residents in Decatur and Paradise won’t soon forget Friday, Oct. 12, 2001.

A brief, but violent explosion of weather hit the two Wise County towns, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

It began last Friday about 7:50 p.m. in Paradise and about 8 in Decatur when tornadoes struck with a vengeance.

A tornado with winds estimated at 160 miles per hour ripped through Decatur, causing major damage to homes, businesses and a church.

A similar windstorm pounded Paradise, destroying its new fire station and causing damage estimated at $1.1 million.

Both tornadoes were classed as F-2 by the National Weather Service, which issued a warning for residents to take shelter from the storm cell as it moved into Wise County from the southwest. The storm moved northeast across the county.

Initial estimates indicated damage totals for the county could exceed $10 million, according to emergency officials.

A total of at least seven funnel clouds were reported by weather watchers and law enforcement officials.

Miraculously, only two minor injuries were reported. One person received a cut hand during the storm and a woman in the Paradise Fire Station was hit in the head by flying debris. She was treated and released from Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

Wise Regional Health System in Decatur reportedly treated several people for hysteria.

The Wise County Sheriff’s Department reported seven homes, four businesses and one government building were destroyed in Decatur. At least 68 homes were damaged in Decatur, as well as 15 businesses and three government buildings.

The hardest hit area in Decatur was in the Lipsey subdivision located on the west side of Farm Road 51 South. The tornado then skipped over U.S. 81/287 before dipping down south of downtown and along the Old Denton Road east of Decatur.

According to Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins, the tornado touched down first in the Lipsey addition where at least 15 to 20 homes were damaged by the high winds.

Roofs were ripped off and downed power lines and trees littered the streets. Toys, clothing, fences, books, insulation and leaves were strewn in the tornado’s path of destruction.

Hundreds of large trees were uprooted. Metal buildings became deadly as they were ripped apart and blown through the air. Eight-foot long pieces of sheet metal were wrapped around trees and poles that somehow were left standing.

The home of Leah Lewis at the intersection of John and Garland streets was one of the most visible signs of the tornado’s devastation. Lewis said she was in the house, taking shelter under a recliner, when the tornado hit. Only walls were left standing.

Across the street, at 2908 Garland, the custom-built brick home of Bob and Peggy Talley was torn apart as well.

An example of the tornado’s power was evident at the home of Terry and Carla Hardin on Garland Street. A two-by-four pierced their garage door as if it were a dart in a dartboard. Behind the door was their new pickup, which was not damaged.

After cutting a path through the Lipsey addition, the tornado then moved northeast, demolishing most of the sanctuary of the Church of Christ at the intersection of Farm Road 51 and Preskitt Road. Church members gathered Saturday morning and cried as they saw the destruction.

“If the tornado had hit on Wednesday night, we would have all been in there,” said church member Lillian Nanny.

A huge truss, ripped from the foundation on the east side of the church, was tossed over the building and landed on the west side of the sanctuary. An even larger piece of the supporting structure was thrown 50 yards north along the highway.

Bricks were piled at the base of the west and southeast walls of the church’s fellowship hall. A church sign was found in a tree about a mile from the sanctuary.

Across the highway, the only damage to the new sanctuary of the First Baptist Church was to the steeple, which was torn off and landed several hundred feet from the building.

The Baptist church offered the use of their sanctuary to the members of the Church of Christ for last Sunday’s worship, but the Church of Christ instead used the Decatur Civic Center for its services.

Holding up a piece of the damaged church, Church of Christ preacher Ryan Morrison told the worshippers, “We’ll use this as a symbol of our brokenness and that we can come together.”

The violent storm devastated the three-story Fit-n-Wise complex on the east side of Farm Road 51. The powerful wind destroyed all of the glass at the front entrance to the building and bent several metal poles. Shards of glass were blown inside the building and the vacuum created by the freak storm sucked down ceiling tiles and blew out windows on all sides of the building, which also houses doctors’ offices and fitness and rehabilitation centers.

With lightning flashing constantly in the dark sky, the tornado continued its destructive path. It crossed over U.S. 81/287 and damaged houses south of downtown Decatur. Homes along College, Stratton, Park and Hatcher streets were damaged. Huge trees were snapped and littered yards and streets throughout Decatur. Electric and telephone lines dangled from power poles. Residents by the hundreds were out on city streets, checking on neighbors, friends and relatives as soon as the storm passed.

The same storm also heavily damaged at least four homes on Old Denton Road east of town. Roads were blocked by trees and power lines.

The high winds leveled signs around town, including some metal signs that were found wrapped around telephone poles and the trees that somehow withstood the powerful wind.

Most of the town lost power as the storm battered the city, including Wise Regional Health System. A backup generator provided power for the hospital. Power remained off for portions of town until Saturday.

After the tornado hit, Decatur police drove up and down streets, using a loudspeaker to warn residents of the danger of a possible second tornado in the area and downed power lines.

Police shut down Farm Road 51 from Decatur to Paradise for several hours because of a gas leak and debris covering the roads.

To assist with the damage assessment and recovery, firemen and city policemen from all corners of Wise County, as well as Department of Public Safety troopers, Wise County Sheriff’s deputies, Denton County Fire Department and emergency personnel met at a makeshift command post in the parking lot of the high school.

Red Cross volunteers from Tarrant and Wise counties rushed to the area to provide relief for families who were driven from their homes. News media from the Metroplex descended on the area as well.

In Decatur, the NWS estimated the total length of the path of the tornado was at least five miles, with a maximum path width of one-third of a mile.

In Paradise, trees were strewn across roads, making access nearly impossible. The winds that struck there were estimated by the National Weather Service at 120 miles per hour.

The NWS said the tornado touched down around 7:50 p.m. at the intersection of Sunflower and School House roads in the southwest corner of Paradise.

“The tornado strengthened as it moved northeast with peak intensity of F-2 along Main Street,” said Mike Vescio of the NWS. “The roof of a firehouse was completely removed and thrown several hundred yards.”

A reserve water tower across the street from the fire station was also toppled.

The NWS estimated the total length of the path of the tornado was 2.5 miles, with a maximum path width of one-fourth of a mile.

K.C. Schoenthal, emergency management coordinator for Paradise, said about 20 homes had received damage in that west Wise town. Three of those houses were more than 40 percent destroyed. The fire department building was considered a total loss and three businesses suffered “severe damage.”

City of Denton and Decatur workers, volunteer firefighters, TU Electric and Wise Electric Cooperative, Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Transportation and hundreds of volunteers worked throughout the night, all day Saturday and Sunday. They were working to restore power, clear streets and help residents with problems throughout the county.

The National Weather Service said the last confirmed tornado in Decatur was in the 1930s.


THE CHURCH IS STILL STRONG - Don Niblett consoles a tearful Lillian Nanny as members of the Decatur Church of Christ on Farm Road 51 South gathered early Saturday morning to view the damage from Friday night's tornado. Messenger photos by Skip Nichols



THE CHURCH IS STILL STRONG - A massive beam from the east side of the church sanctuary was thrown over the building and came to rest on the west side. Messenger photos by Skip Nichols



THE CHURCH IS STILL STRONG - A massive beam from the east side of the church sanctuary was thrown over the building and came to rest on the west side. Messenger photos by Skip Nichols



NO PLAYTIME HERE - This yard on College Street is typically filled with children playing. Saturday morning it was filled with a huge tree that broke through the concrete when tornadic winds toppled it. Messenger photo by Mitch Word

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Shattered Dreams, Enduring Spirit

By Lydia Tilbury Hair
Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2001

Leah Lewis did not have time to do anything but take shelter under a recliner when the tornado hit her home in Decatur’s Lipsey Addition Friday night. It wasn’t a bad move considering that the house is gone, but she was uninjured and the recliner still sits in the living room.

She is apparently made of strong stuff. It is not every day you lose your house and almost your life in the violence of a tornado, but as she stood among what was left of her belongings spread out along her driveway, she smiled.

“I am just thankful that I am OK. I can replace my house, but I can’t replace my life,” she said.

When the twister hit, she has just gotten off the phone with her daughter who advised her to take shelter in a back bedroom. It was the room they had always said they would go to if a tornado struck. She never made it to that room.

Call it providence, call it good luck, call it what you will, but if she had made it to that room, it may have been the last thing she did. That room now has no walls and no roof and is almost demolished.

“I had started back through the house when the glass started flying,” she recounts. “I came through the kitchen and then it hit and I didn’t have time to go anywhere but the living room under the recliner. I’ve lived in Decatur since 1975 and I have never seen anything like this.”

Sunshine floods her home in places it shouldn’t, with pieces of the roof missing. Her white kitchen is speckled with what looks like mud. Debris is everywhere, in every room. The window she had been standing at while on the phone with her daughter now has tree limbs extending through the broken glass.

Yet stereo equipment stands in a corner of the living room, untouched, unmoved. Pictures still hang on the wall, ceramic angels still sit on the mantel and candlesticks are unmoved on the television.

But a lifetime of belongings are spread all over the neighborhood and her yard is piled with remnants of all the things that make a house a home, even her Christmas decorations. She had sent word out in the neighborhood asking that anyone who found family pictures to please bring them back.

“Steve and Dwayne McCrary and Justin Culpepper helped me out from under the recliner,” she said. “We have a lot of nice people in this city.”

As she speaks, several people work to load up her remaining belongings. Others come to her offering food or drinks or whatever help she needs. She thanks them, hugs them and says she will be okay. Using a cell phone she calls the number for Scott Locklear who is offering free storage buildings for anyone displaced by the tornado.

Through it all, Lewis has nothing but praise for the emergency personnel in Decatur and Wise County.

“I had not even walked to the end of my driveway and they were there.” she says. “You walk outside and there are all these bright lights and I wondered how in the world they got here so fast. There were police cars, the fire department, the EMS people. I couldn’t believe it.”

They took her to Wise Regional Health System where the medical staff checked her out. Covered with insulation, the nurses offered her the use of a shower and brought her shampoo.

“I took a hot shower and they brought scrubs for me to wear,” Lewis said. She stayed at a local motel Friday night.

Lewis said she has always wondered if the city of Decatur had an emergency plan for situations like this. She doesn’t wonder anymore.

“Decatur must have a plan and it’s a good plan evidently,” she said.

And evidently she is right about having good neighbors. As she stood in her driveway, a neighbor who lives on Lipsey Street, Cindy Munnerlyn, walked up with a red and white teddy bear.

“I found this in my yard and I thought it might be yours,” Munnerlyn says.


Leah Lewis stands in the living room of her home that was destroyed by Friday night's tornado. In front of her is the recliner she took refuge under as the twister hit. The living room was the only room left with a roof. The series of pictures across the bottom of the page show the destruction at Lewis' home on John and Garland streets in the Lipsey Addition.



Garland Street resident Carla Hardin looks at a two-by-four that pierced her garage door.



Eddie Gonzales watches as workers prepare to remove a tree from the roof of his home on Lipsey Street.



The tornado left behind debris in the yard of this home on Lipsey Street that included fences, personal belongings and insulation from the homes that were damaged Friday night. In the background is the destroyed home of Leah Lewis.



The entrance of the Cocanougher home on Old Decatur Road reveals damage from the tornado. The home was so badly damaged that the Cocanoughers had to move out.



The Salinas family's back yard on Old Denton Road shows where a goat shelter and a shed were picked up by the tornado. It was deposited about a half-mile away on U.S. 380.



The metal frame and glass front entrance to Fit-N-Wise was destroyed by Friday night's tornado



Charles "Doc" Cocanougher stands beside a two-by-four that he believes is from the gazebo that stood in his back yard before the tornado carried it away. The American flag he holds was found on the ground nearby.

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