Stewart McKenzie| CBS 11 Senior Producer

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CBS 11 Senior Producer Stewart McKenzie volunteered to help with efforts in Garland after that town was struck by an EF-4 tornado last month. Here are some of his observations:

“Through The Eyes Of A Volunteer”

I am not a disaster expert. My first experience at disaster assistance was being part of a church group that went to Joplin, Missouri after an EF-5 tornado wiped out part of that town in May 2011.

Here I am, more than 4 years later, finding myself going with another group to Garland last Thursday. An EF-4 tornado hit that city, Sunnyvale and Rowlett with varying intensity the day after Christmas.

13 days later debris is everywhere. There are signs of initial recovery. Blue tarps are covering gaping holes in some roofs. But at some homes the damage is too significant that can’t be covered with a piece of plastic. The recovery effort for families is far from over.

And there are many stories that are being shared about what survivors endured that night after Christmas. One story that I heard involved a homeowner who was lying in bed when the sirens went off and the whipping wind could be heard outside her 2-story home. She grabbed her Bible and got into the bathtub. A few seconds later, the chimney collapsed into her bedroom with bricks falling on the bed where she had been resting. She’s alive. But her home has significant damage.

There’s the van I saw outside that home. The fierce winds rolled that van several times. But, in the back lot of her home is an RV. At first glance it looks like the tornado didn’t touch it. Look closer and you’ll see a splintered 2×4 that had pierced the metal.

A van that rolled several times during the tornado..and is heavily damaged. (Stewart McKenzie - CBS11)

A van that rolled several times during the tornado..and is heavily damaged. (Stewart McKenzie – CBS11)

And take one look at the neighborhood. While one homeowner has significant damage to the house, her next door neighborhood has what appears to be superficial damage. A blown out window and slight roof damage. The cruel destruction of a tornado evident in just a one block area of Garland.

Volunteer groups have descended from across the nation to help the thousands of people begin to pick up what’s left and start rebuilding their lives. Besides the group that I’m affiliated with (Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Team), I saw members of Operation Blessing, and the American Red Cross. That’s just in a one block area of Garland.

What makes this disaster experience different from Joplin? It is in my backyard and yours. It didn’t require a 7-hour journey to another state but a 45 minute drive in rush hour traffic.

The conditions are different. When we went to Joplin, it was in late June and early July. Summer was setting in. It was hot and dry.

Not this time. Besides the nails and broken glass, we endured wet conditions and muddy pastures. After a heavy rain the night before, moving through the mud and puddles was not easy. The day that our group showed up, we enjoyed temperatures in the 50’s. But, it was in the 40’s the day before. And this weekend, a cold front will blow through and knock the temperature back into the 30’s and 40’s.

It’s less than ideal conditions to volunteer. When is a disaster easy and comfortable? Families need help. A call to action from you and I to help our neighbors. We may not know them. But, if the weather pattern had set up a few miles to the west, east, north or south, it could have been you and I missing homes and searching for valuable family heirlooms.

The memory of the tornado outbreak on December 26, 2015 may be fading. However the work is just starting.

Splintered piece of wood that impaled an RV in Garland (Stewart McKenzie - CBS11)

Splintered piece of wood that impaled an RV in Garland (Stewart McKenzie – CBS11)

One of many houses heavily damaged by the tornado. So much damage it really can't be covered by a tarp. (Stewart McKenzie - CBS11)

One of many houses heavily damaged by the tornado. So much damage it really can’t be covered by a tarp. (Stewart McKenzie – CBS11)