Rowlett Mayor Remembers Deadly Tornado of December 2015

Mayor Gottel talks about his city in the aftermath of the 2015 tornado

Mayor Todd Gottel of Rowlett recalls December 26, 2015 well.

"I remember going outside and standing outside and you literally could taste the air," said Mayor Gottel. "It was very thick. It was different from a normal day."

On the morning of the 26th, NBC 5 meteorologists and the National Weather Service warned about the threat of severe weather in the afternoon.

"You always do the best you can to be prepared," said Mayor Gottel.

At 6:45 p.m., preparation was put to the test.

"We had sirens going off," said Mayor Gottel. "We had emergency alert notifications going out."

Around the same time, NBC 5 Chief Meteorologist David Finfrock shared an ominous observation from the National Weather Service chat room.

"We're getting reports of a large and dangerous tornado around Rowlett," said Finfrock at 5:50 p.m.

At that time, a half-mile wide EF4 tornado tore through Rowlett. In it's 3-and-a-half mile long path, more than 1200 homes and businesses were damaged.

The city of Rowlett said a man died days after his home collapsed on him. Twenty-three people were injured.

The mayor has heard stories of survival from dozens others, including a man trying to protect his family in the upstairs powder room of his home.

"He said, 'I got to the closet, I held the door shut as tight as I could - and at one point my 9 year old daughter was being lifted off the ground [by the suction of the tornado]'."

"This is the worst incident we've [city of Rowlett] ever had," said the mayor.

Just as Rowlett began digging out from the rubble, helping hands arrived.

"Home Home Depot called immediately," said Mayor Gottel. "[The manager] called me immediately and said we'll stay all night if we have to... whatever you need."

"And others like Chick Fil A, for the first time in the history of the company, they were open on a Sunday. They wanted to create a shelter that people could go in and charge their phones."

The mayor said only ten percent of the city remains in shambles after the tornado of December 26, 2015.

He said the biggest lesson for all of homeowners is to be prepared.

"The importance of having a plan in place at a personal level to make sure should something happen that you can react pretty quickly," said Mayor Gottel.

That includes keeping a kit handy with food, water, medicine, important insurance papers and more. Click on this sentence for the American Red Cross suggestions of what to pack in a survival kit.

He said thinking ahead will help save lives the next time the big storm hits.

Contact Us