‘Just start over’: Valley View residents rebuild after deadly North Texas tornado

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Banding together

The John Fortenberry Community Center at the heart of Valley View on South Lee Street has served as one of the home bases for disaster relief donations and aid.

On Wednesday, volunteers in neon green mesh vests walked inside with arms full between stacks of toilet paper, bottled water, diapers and canned foods, taking inventory and unloading more donated materials from car trunks and truck beds outside.

Valley View is continuing to receive state and federal aid, said Joe Wilkerson, the town’s mayor pro tem. The center’s had constant hands on deck for days, including people just walking in looking for ways to help.

Wilkerson said what the town needs now is monetary donations as well as tools like tarps, rope, duct tape, nails and cleaning supplies.

“We’re hoping within the next couple of weeks that, you know, all of our stock here is gone through and people are kind of set back up and they’re ready to start, you know, rebuild,” he said.

Seeing that kindness down the street has been humbling for Tessa Louise Garrison. The 24-year-old and her husband Preston Maughan moved from Spokane, Washington, to their house in Valley View — Maughan’s hometown — the day before the tornado hit.

Garrison was at her parents-in-law’s home making them dinner. The family knew a tornado watch was in place but thought little of it until things got serious.

“When we saw the tornado warning, I said to my husband, ‘if a tornado hits, I’m packing up and going back to Spokane,’” Garrison said.

She spent part of her afternoon Wednesday cleaning up fallen tree limbs from the front yard, which she said was luckily the worst of damage to their property.

“It’s good to know that this community is a community that you can really rely on and that the people here really do care about their neighbors and about one another,” Garrison said. “We’ve had so many people reach out to us to make sure that we’re okay, you know, us just moving down here and making sure that, you know, the tornado didn’t not only scare us, but didn’t damage us.”

Across the street, 75-year-old Jerry Huggins grilled burgers and hot dogs for tornado victims and the volunteers helping out. He and others had been outside since about 10 a.m. and made 120 hamburgers and 50 hot dogs by the afternoon.

Huggins noticed everyone in town was offering a helping hand, even those whose own homes were going to need bulldozing, he said. One of the most important things his time as a chaplain with Guardian Hospice in Sherman has taught him: how to listen to people when they’re hurting.

“They’re in shock with the loss,” he said. “There’s some fear because they don’t know what they’re going to do next … But they’re really uplifted, you know, when they can come in and be around volunteers that tell them, ‘it’s going to be OK. We don’t know how, but it’s going to be OK.’”