by Amy Yen, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region
Becky Coil stands on crutches in a debris field that used to be her home. She has a brace on her leg and another around her neck that extends over her chest to protect her cracked ribs. Despite the circumstances, she is rather cheerful.
“I am so blessed,” she says. “I am so blessed.”
She points out the spot where she landed, just past a box of diapers that used to be gift-wrapped for a baby shower, before an EF-4 tornado tore off the paper along with the roof of the Coils’ double-wide mobile home in Canton, Texas.
Just before 6 PM on Saturday, April 29, Becky’s daughter text to tell her a tornado was on the ground and headed in her direction. She grabbed her purse and went into the bathroom, where she got into the bathtub with her German shepherd, with her other two dogs on the floor by the tub. Less than two minutes later, the windows blew out.
“I heard glass explode and I could hear the roof creak and the hail started and then there was a sound like a train was coming. It was deafening,” Becky describes. “I felt the home shift, I knew it had started to slide. And then the tornado grabbed it and jerked it up in the air and let it back down and that happened twice. And the third time it did that, the roof came off. And the house actually picked up & I could feel it spinning. And then it started to roll & debris was hitting me.
“It probably lasted a good 15 to 20 seconds,” she says. “But it felt like an eternity.”
The next thing Becky knew, she was on the ground. The tub she was in was gone and so was most of her mobile home. To her horror, she opened her eyes and could still see the tornado in front of her.
“I was scared to death that it was headed my way, but then I looked around at all the debris and realized it already hit me. Then I saw it hit my neighbors’ house and take it out.”
Becky watched helpless as two of her three dogs ran off, although they would later find both of them.
“I never did find the third one, the one in the bathtub with me. I lost my grip on him during the storm,” she said. “I was trying to look around to find my purse, because I had put it around my neck, because it had my phones and keys and all my identification. But it was gone.”
Becky knew she was hurt, but was not bleeding and did not think anything was broken. So she stood up and walked toward the road to check on her neighbors whose house she saw get hit.
“When I was walking toward the road, I realized all the trees were gone, my car was gone—it’s all way over there,” she points it out in the distance. “Our boat is out there in the pasture upside down. Our other vehicle and our tractor were crushed. When I got to the road, I could hear my neighbors yelling for help.”
In the pouring rain, she helped her neighbors, two of whom were so badly injured they could not be moved. Trees were down in the road, making it difficult to walk to the main street. And, although none of their cell phones had service to call for help, the weather app was still working and had started sounding another tornado warning.
“The sky was turning dark again and we could see the wall cloud,” describes Becky. “Being in the rain with the lightning and no shelter, that was scary.”
Finally, they saw lights in the main street so they flashed flashlights and yelled for help. But it would be another two hours before ambulances could get to them.
Although Becky knew she was injured, she didn’t realize to what extent until after the ambulances had left with her more seriously hurt neighbors and the adrenaline began to wear off. By that point, her husband, who was at work when the storm hit, was able to get to her and took her to the high school where medical personnel were triaging survivors.
“I work for ETMC and the day before, we actually practiced our annual disaster drill, where we had a mock drill where we triaged people red, yellow, green or morgue,” Becky explains. “So when we got to the high school, I told the man, as long as he didn’t give me the triage tag for morgue, I was good.”
Becky was given a yellow tag and at the hospital was told how extensive her injuries actually were. She had a fracture in her back in the T1 vertebrae, cracked ribs and a sprain in her knee. She will be in the brace for at least another three weeks.
“I’m just thanking God I’m alive, because I was praying like crazy the whole time I was in that bathtub,” Becky says, standing in her crutches. “I really did not think I was going to walk away once the house got picked up.”
Becky considers herself lucky. Her son was in Tyler on business so she and her husband stayed in his hotel room for several days. They visited the American Red Cross Multi-Agency Resource Center at the Canton Civic Center.
“They gave us a gift card for food and clothing. They offered us housing. They had counselors available. They gave us the number for someone to help with debris removal. There was food up there, hot meals. They were so kind and so compassionate,” says Becky. “It’s overwhelming for us, just with dealing with everything at once, but at least I know things are going to be okay. I just can’t even imagine if we didn’t have anywhere to go.”
“We’re blessed. We have insurance,” she continues. “All five of our children live here in the area. We’re lucky. The injuries will heal. We will rebuild.”
The Coils are hoping that the insurance company will allow them to get a camper trailer and move back on their property instead of staying in a hotel for the next few months.
“We want to come home,” explains Becky. “My dogs are with my daughter and we want to get them and come back here and try to get back to normal as soon as possible.”
In the meantime, she is thankful for the family, friends and volunteers who have shown up to help in the clean-up effort.
“The kindness of strangers is amazing. If something like this happens where you can volunteer, please help,” she remarks. “If anything like this ever happens again, I will be the first in line.”