Sunday, April 30, 2017

Wedding Guest Killed During East Texas Tornado

It was a joyful day that ended up being a day of sorrow.

Friends and family spent the day preparing for a wedding that was to take place Saturday evening outside of a family home on Van Zandt County Road 2301, southwest of Canton.

Several dozen people were on the grounds, including a few people who had gone into a detached garage about 100 yards from the main home to check out some race cars being worked on.

Reba Billingsley, a family friend, said she was arranging roses on the wedding cake when she was summoned to the home to take photos of the bridal party getting ready for the ceremony.

“I think I got two pictures of the bride and a couple pictures of the bridal party getting ready, and they said ‘Boy the wind is picking up,’“ she said. “And we looked and a tree came flying by the window.”

The homeowner, she said, builds storm shelters for a living, so the home had a large, bunker-like storm shelter.

“Everyone just started yelling ‘Get into the bunker!’” she said. “We had no warning. They say ‘it sounds like a train,’ but it didn’t. The wind started blowing and that was it.”

The group didn’t make it to the bunker in time, and she said they were forced to take shelter in an interior hallway.

Much of what happened after that moment is a blur for Billingsley, and she pauses often while telling her story. She speaks about trying to get herself and others to safety and of everyone frantically trying to find the children who had been playing nearby just moments before.

“As we were running, the roof and the walls were coming off,” Billingsley said, indicating with her hands how the walls were bowing outward. “The house was just like Lego blocks being thrown up.”


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