BY ABIGAIL MIHALIC ’20 AND SARAH HUI ’20
Chloe Flabiano ’22 did not take the tornado warning too seriously on Sunday, Oct. 20. Like any normal night, she hopped in the shower, music blaring, while her family watched the Cowboy’s game.
She found it a little strange when the power went out, but after hearing her mother scream to get downstairs and seeing her father’s unusually frightened expression, Flabiano knew this storm was different. One look outside before rushing to safety confirmed her fears.
“I can’t even describe what I saw. There were random things flying everywhere, and all I could hear were the extremely loud crashes coming from every direction. The time in the closet went by fast. I remember crying and holding my dogs while my mom was praying. I could literally hear the roar of the tornado, and everything was so loud that I genuinely thought I would come out from under the stairs and my house would not be there anymore,” she said.
At around 9 p.m. that night, the strongest of ten tornadoes touched down near Love Field Airport and, with 140 mph winds, blew through a 15-mile-long stretch of densely populated North Dallas.
Although the city was tremendously lucky to not suffer any casualties, the tornado’s path of destruction left over 100,000 homes without power and caused a record $2 billion in damages to homes, schools and workplaces.
While Ursuline was mostly spared, surrounding neighborhoods were hit especially hard, impacting many in the Ursuline community.
Flabiano considers her family one of the lucky ones in her neighborhood. Although her house was saved from total destruction, the repairs are numerous: patching a massive hole in her game room, fixing water leaks, replacing the entire roof and fence and installing three new HVAC compressors.
Almost all the Flabianos’ trees fell, one crushing her brother’s car. Their trampoline still hangs sideways, pinned to her neighbor’s tree by a fallen power line. Despite the lengthy repairs, Flabiano treasures the fact that she will be able to eventually return home.
Marcy Mount ’21 remembers saying “Are we really doing this?” to her mom before hiding in an interior bathroom. Soon after, the tornado caused trees to fall on her roof and windows to shatter.
Mount spent the next week without power or internet access, bouncing back and forth between a hotel and her house to clear debris from her yard. While repairs are not fully completed especially due to the high demand for contractors, the Mounts have moved back home.
“It’s crazy to look at my street and not recognize it because there are no more trees or fences or telephone poles,” she said.
Tornado damage to walls, windows and floors will keep Ava Gough ’20 and her family out of their house for the next five or six months. In the days following the tornado, Gough’s worries about what would happen to her house were compounded by frantic apartment hunting.
Now, with her family’s apartment close to her house, Ursuline and her friends, Gough feels that she has adapted to her new normal and is settled and happy. Gough reflected on her experience after the tornado.
“I believe this situation has caused me to become more thankful, mature and independent.”
Not only did Flabiano’s house sustain damage from the tornado, but so did her workplace, Sample House & Candle Shop on Preston Royal. She had just finished her shift hours before the tornado, and she rode her bike over the next day to survey the damage for her manager.
“It was utter devastation, especially for my boss, because she has been working there since the day Sample House was conceived. Even though I just recently got my job, I am extremely sad because I loved my job there and the people even more,” said Flabiano.
Ursuline teachers also felt the tornado’s impact. Sunday evening, Gabrielle Merani, Ursuline’s service coordinator and an English teacher, was out of the house. Only her 10-month-old German Shepherd Rottweiler mix Grayson was at home. Merani was just a minute away, leaving a restaurant with her boyfriend. It was raining, but the rain looked sideways and a chair slid across the ground.
“I don’t think this is normal rain,” said her boyfriend.
The two ducked inside the restaurant’s bathrooms. Seconds later, there was a loud “whoosh,” Merani said. The windows blew in, the power went out and car sirens began blaring. Everything lasted only a second.
They went outside, joining other shocked and unnerved shopping center visitors. All the power lines were down, and cars had slammed into each other.
“Was that a tornado?” they asked each other. Then the tornado siren went off, late.
Merani’s thoughts turned to her puppy Grayson at home alone. But the drive home, normally a minute, took a whole hour. When Merani and her boyfriend finally reached her house, they found Grayson cowering in a corner.
The tornado split seven of Merani’s eight trees in half. Debris lay everywhere, along with her flattened fence. For two weeks, Merani did not have power. She could not even access the Internet because she had lost her phone two days before the tornado.
“I just hoped Ursuline was off,” said Merani. “I tried to get there but couldn’t.”
Merani and her dog Grayson spent nearly two weeks total between a hotel and two motels. In terms of support, Ursuline has been incredible, she said. Merani gave a shout out to Principal Andrea Shurley and fellow English teacher Kate Schenck.
History teacher Guy Hoyle experienced the same strong support. He was offered a place to stay if needed by math teacher Fred Lancaster.
The night of the tornado, debris pounded on the roof and wind blew through their front door’s mail slot eerily as Hoyle and his mother Mary Lou took shelter in a bathroom.
The next day, they saw their big oak trees had been knocked down, including one blocking their driveway. Two large tree limbs had fallen into their pool and a branch was going through their garage’s roof.
The cleanup at Hoyle’s house took a week. Lowe’s employees with chainsaws helped first, then volunteers from United Methodist Church finished up the job.
“It was the most amazing thing,” said Hoyle. “[The cleanup] was so overwhelming. I would still be picking up [debris] if I had to do it alone.”
Jeff Girard, AP Government and Inside Nazi Germany teacher, was making Monday’s lunch for his two kids when the tornado hit. By the time they took shelter in a closet, the tornado had passed.
Girard helped with disaster relief on Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy through Good Shepherd Episcopal School’s Disaster Relief and Recovery program when he was a teacher there roughly five years ago.
“When it’s in your own backyard it’s like, whoa, it could have been way worse,” said Girard. “Then you ask, how can we help others who had it way worse?”
Girard’s family had less damage than others, losing part of their fence and having a tree branch fall on their roof. Behind them, apartments lay destroyed. The discrepancy in damage is similar to Ursuline’s unharmed campus and the destruction at another high school, St. Mark’s.
The Hicks Athletic Center, St. Mark’s main gym, was destroyed, and other buildings including the performance hall, the black box theater, and the chapel sustained damages. Senior Sam Ahmed described the moment he understood how bad the campus had ben hit after seeing pictures students posted to his class’ group chat.
“They honestly looked photoshopped, and I didn’t want to believe them.”
Ahmed sees this as a defining experience for the class of 2020 and the entire St. Mark’s community. With plans in place to completely restore the high school, Ahmed believes that attention should be shifted towards DISD schools who suffered the most.
Three DISD schools were battered by the tornado enough that they will likely be declared total losses: Thomas Jefferson High, Cary Middle and Walnut Hill Elementary. DISD received support from across the Dallas community, including 1 million-dollar donations from both Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones and Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban.
School district officials are debating whether to restore these schools to their original form or use this opportunity to build different schools, such as a middle/high school combo or a career institute.
One of these schools, Walnut Hill Elementary, is close to the hearts of many Ursuline students. Multiple seniors served every Monday morning at Walnut Hill, and many students pass by the building going to and from Ursuline each day.
Paloma Resendiz ’20 served at Walnut Hill, but she is also a sister to one of its fourth graders, Edwin Resendiz.
“I grew to love that school, so when I heard that the roof blew off and it caught fire and all this sad stuff, I was really upset,” said the Ursuline senior.
Resendiz was surprised at how well her brother took the news of losing his school. Since all the students, teachers and staff moved to the recently-closed Tom W. Field Elementary, it still feels like Walnut Hill, just in a different building.
This move has not been without its struggles. Tom Field is 15 minutes farther from the Resendiz home than Walnut Hill, nearly prompting the family to change schools if not for their son’s strong desire to stay with his classmates.
While the school has since received plenty of supplies, Resendiz (to his delight) did not have homework for the first two weeks after the tornado simply because the teachers lacked printers.
Despite a variety of tornado experiences, those affected all expressed a similar sentiment—one of gratefulness, hope and a desire to serve others.
“It’s the stories and the community outreach and what neighbors do for each other that’s really the takeaway,” said Girard.
As a community, Dallas has come together to support those most affected by the tornado’s destruction. From nonprofits, businesses and restaurants, to churches, schools and neighbors, many ensured that Dallas can recover from this tragedy.
Image courtesy of Marcy Mount ’21