After the storms: Support pours in after local town hit by tornadoes

by By Michelle Dillon

“I’m grateful to be alive,” said Shannon Flowers after her home was destroyed by a tornado that hit Alto Saturday, April 13.

Flowers and her husband, Jerry, lived on Water Street and were home when the tornado struck.

“I had been outside right before it came and I had noticed the rotation in the sky,” Flowers recalled. “The wind started picking up and so I told my husband, “I’m getting back in the house.” We live in a double-wide [trailer house] and they say not to be in a trailer whenever a tornado comes, but we had nowhere else to go.”

Flowers said her husband had also come into the house but she had taken shelter in her bedroom closet. Her husband found her there and they waited out the storm together.

Emerging from the closet and seeing her bedroom still intact, including the windows, Flowers assumed their home had survived. When she opened the bedroom door, she realized her house had been devastated. A tree had fallen into the living room and there was debris and insulation everywhere.

The house, which was already in need of a new roof due to the previous week’s hailstorm, is a complete loss now, as is her brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee. Her husband’s truck sustained damage and is in need of some repairs, but isn’t a total loss.

Flowers reported they were able to salvage many of their belongings and a friend has a two-bedroom trailer they’ll be allowed to live in rent-free until they are able to settle their insurance claims. Though they plan to remain in the area, the couple does not intend to return to live at the site of their destroyed home.

Flowers did note that a small piece of board with a cross attached was found on her porch following the storm.

“Of course, I packed it away to keep,” Flowers commented.

The Flowers are among many who suffered loss during the recent tornados in Alto, but are also among those who have received aide.

A woman from the United Methodist church brought four children who helped pack up what was salvageable from two bedrooms, according to Flowers.

Others from within the community, the surrounding area and beyond have given their time to assist in a number of ways.

Terri and Tommy Grogan of Alto Missionary Baptist Church spent days at the church, assisting in the sorting of donations that had come in. Their own home, located about six miles out of town, was spared.

“I’ve lived here since 1982,” said Terri Grogan. My kids grew up here, went to school here and these are my people. These are our friends and family and they’re hurting. We’re so blessed. We were spared at our house, so we need to give back.”

Although sustaining approximately $100,00 worth of damage to the building, the Alto Missionary Baptist Church has been a center for collecting non-perishable food items, hygiene products, cleaning supplies and all types of baby products for community members. Tarps, hammers, work gloves and other building-type materials have been sent to city hall for distribution.

Vennessia Boyd Mansel, a Rusk resident, volunteered at the Alto MBC. She delivered items collected by the Rusk Ministerial Alliance and has sorted and organized donations as well as assisted citizens in finding what they need.

“It feels good,” she said when asked why she had volunteered. “When I left yesterday, I felt good, like I had done something. The thing about a situation like this is, if people can be just a little bit comfortable, they can deal with things better.

“People are steadily bringing [items] which goes to show when it’s on the news and in the paper, people will come together. Not everybody, but people will come together and they’ll help their neighbor and Alto is our neighbor.”

Dan and Stacy Schochler, also found helping at Alto MBC, arrived from Katy. On Sunday, April 14, the pair delivered a generator and supplies to his aunt and cousins.

“We knew what they would need right away because we’d been through it,” Dan stated. “We were in Simonton, near the Brazos [River] and we flooded in 2016 and lost everything and flooded again in Harvey and lost everything again right after we rebuilt.”

The couple returned to Alto Wednesday, April 17, delivering items collected by friends and church members and assisted in the ongoing efforts at Alto MBC.

“I know that it’s not going to be this week that they’re going to have trouble, it’s going to be next week and the following weeks when people forget,” Dan stated.

“We’ll come back as needed,” Stacy added.

Franchisee Shelby Wager, owner of locations in Tyler and Lufkin, donated 300 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 16 and 17.

She was at the corporate office in Dallas when her husband called her Monday, April 15, asking if she had heard the news about the storms in Alto. After he had relayed the events, the two established a plan.

Within four hours Wager had returned from Dallas, volunteers from South Spring Baptist Church in Tyler where she attends church had arrived at her restaurant and 300 sandwiches had been put together. The same 15 volunteers returned Tuesday to create another 300 sandwiches.

“If you have the opportunity to help out and you’re in a position to, why wouldn’t you?” Wager responded when asked why it was important to her to help the Alto community.

“As a Christian, I feel that God calls us to help others,” she stated.

Wager also mentioned that Which Wich, as a company, runs a program called Project PB&J. For every peanut butter and jelly sandwich purchased in the store, two more are donated.

“Corporate is also helping by purchasing supplies,” Wager noted. “Between Which Wich corporate and our church with helping hands, we just all pulled it off, 600 sandwiches in two days.”

The volunteers at The River have used the donated sandwiches to create lunches for delivery to work crews.

The River, a church located at 595 S. Marcos in Alto, provided three hot meals a day to residents, first responders and volunteers for a week following the tornados. The church has also been a drop-off station for supplies.

“It’s been very humbling,” stated Ron Rose, pastor of The River. “You don’t realize how may people care and not just care, but are willing to do something. It’s been overwhelming.”

Rose said that financial contributions will be the greatest need for the future. Many displaced low income and fixed income individuals will need help in paying deposits and first month’s rent as they locate new residences.

An Alto Relief Fund has been set up at Bancorp South-Alto. The bank can be reached by calling (936) 858-4416.