One Year Later, Richardson Residents Point to Bright Spot in Tornado Cleanup

Residents say Texas Baptist Men played a role in healing after a tornado hit Oct. 2019.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Disasters can uproot lives.

They can also transform them.

The destruction caused by the tornado that struck Fort Worth in 2000 triggered an opportunity for business redevelopment and more housing.

But last year's tornado in Dallas County triggered something else, deep within the hearts of those who were there.

The Dallas-based non-profit Texas Baptist Men explained how they look for the light that always comes after the darkness of each storm.

“We’ve been living with this ominous anticipation for almost a year,” Richardson resident Amanda Pritchard said. "How do you remember or recognize what happened?"

She said she still can't wrap her mind around what happened to her beloved neighborhood a year ago this week.

“It was a traumatic experience that I will never forget,” she said.

Oct. 20, 2019, was a night like any other until it suddenly wasn't for Pritchard and her neighbors, who live in a quiet neighborhood surrounding Richland Park.

“If you’ve never lived through something like that, you can feel it in your bones,” she said of the moment the tornado struck. "The pressure crushes you, your ears start to pop and you feel a lifting in your body that’s just unworldly. I’ve never experienced it before. It’s not like not like going on a roller coaster or any of these other adrenalines. It’s just an imminent fear.”

Her family were huddled in their bathtub at that point.

“We covered the kids and they were terrified. I told them, ‘What we do when we’re afraid? We pray,'" she recalls.

In the aftermath, her streets resembled a war zone. Pritchard and her family were not injured so they immediately set out to check on neighbors.

“Street signs crumpled in your front yard, nails, shingles -- everything everywhere in just a matter of minutes,” Pritchard said.

Amanda Pritchard
Damage in the neighborhood off Abrams Road in Richardson.

Her home was damaged but others nearby were practically destroyed. Through her church, she was able to connect with Texas Baptist Men for help.

It was an instant relief.

“We reached out to them after midnight when it happened and by 8 a.m. that morning, they were there, chainsaws in hand,” Pritchard said. “We didn’t know what to do, we would’ve been lost without them.”

Longtime volunteer David Wallace was one of the volunteers who worked in her neighborhood in the aftermath. Teams coordinated with neighbors and got right to work clearing limbs, debris and other materials.

“Some people are to the point that they just don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said.

Amanda Pritchard
TBM crews coordinating in Richardson.

He's seen a decade's worth of disasters, helping families after hurricanes, floods and tornadoes -- including the deadly Christmas 2015 tornado in Rowlett and Garland, as well as the deadly East Texas tornadoes in Van and Canton that struck in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

“It gives you a little more sense of importance to try and get in and help people,” Wallace said of working storm clean up in essentially his own backyard of North Texas.

Last year, he said his crew worked 12 days straight without stopping.

But the amount of work they do goes beyond chainsaws and debris.

"When TBM deploys often times we are doing chainsaw work, feeding, mud out — which is cleaning out flooded homes — sometimes we will do childcare,” said Rand Jenkins, ministry advancement director for TBM. "When families are having to go out and file paperwork, what are you going to do with your young kids? We come in and provide that."

But Jenkins said one of the most important things they do for families is pray with them and let them know they aren’t alone. Chaplains, who have experience with storms, are brought in to help families make decisions on the rebuilding process.

“One of the things that we really learned is that storms are different, they impact in different ways but people are always impacted the same,” he said. “We try to come in and provide the help hope and healing so they can move forward.”

And while there are lessons to be learned from each storm, Wallace said something about the 2019 tornado stood out.

Through the trauma, he watched the community come together in a rare and special way.

“We probably get more from it than what we give,” he said.

TBM said so many people came out of the woodwork to help in the tornado aftermath that they created its first ever daytime volunteer workforce to give everyone a chance to help.

The Pritchard home, damage and all, also turned into a makeshift command center. She helped feed neighbors and volunteers, gathered and distributed donations, and served as a central hub for needs.

"For me, the definition of love is meeting others needs," Pritchard said. "And what brought about this community action after the tornado just proved what a critical community Richardson truly is. That the people there are invested in each other and invested in making sure that your needs are met.”

Wallace said the last time he remembered being at her house, he was fed a hot dog lunch while working through the cleanup.

Amanda Pritchard
Amanda's yard turned into a meeting place for tornado relief.

"You meet these incredible people throughout throughout this world, that just kind of have their arms open when you get there and the only thing we can do is put our arms open too and try to love on them,” he said.

Pritchard said she felt the love, too. And she has ever since.

“I don’t want to say it was worth the tornado but having that at the end of it, completely transformed what I understood what community was,” she said. “It showed me what love and action really is and what it looks like, in the midst of utter chaos and darkness."

Texas Baptist Men are currently helping families on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts following the impacts of Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta.

To learn more about TBM’s work, click here.

Contact Us