This story was originally published at People.com
By Tiare Dunlap, PEOPLE Magazine
Even while the winds of Saturday’s deadly tornado in Garland, Texas, battered her car as she desperately tried to return home, Omeka Ross couldn’t stop thinking about her five children, who were all by themselves.
“All I was thinking about was if my kids were OK,” Ross, 38, tells PEOPLE. “There was just so much running through my mind.”
Ross’s children, age 19 through 2, rode out the tornado, which killed eight people in Garland, by hiding under a mattress in the bathroom – even as the storm tore their house to pieces.
When Ross and a friend reached her neighborhood, they found it destroyed and mangled beyond recognition. “We were rushing and rushing to get there and we almost passed my street because they neighborhood looked so different,” she explains. “The tornado had already hit.”
Then, she found her house. “Everything was destroyed. The garage was gone, the whole back of the house was gone, doors were blown off and all the windows were gone,” she continues.
“It was like being in a movie – all I kept thinking about was what if my kids were taken, what if we cant get them out of there?”
She and her friend ran toward the house shouting the children’s names – there was no response.
“We kept calling their names and calling their names and we didn’t hear anything,” she says. “Then we got to the bathroom, they had a mattress over them – they were all alive.”
Incredibly, the tornado had ravaged the entire home but the bathroom where her five children sought shelter remained intact.
“It hit the whole house except that bathroom,” she says. “If it would’ve lasted just a little bit longer it would’ve taken the roof off and taken one of them.”
The youngest children, ages 5 and 2, were crying but they were all unharmed. Stunned, the family walked out of the house together to find their neighborhood consumed by pandemonium.
“People were stealing thing from other people’s houses. I had to stop one family from trying to re-enter their house because it was just too dangerous,” she recalls. “People were looking for their families, kicking in doors to get them out.”
Eight people were killed by the tornado in Garland, Texas that injured 15 and damaged 600 structures. Three others died in tornadoes that touched down around the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Ross’s family joined others who lost their homes in seeking refuge at a Red Cross staging area that night. They’re now staying with a friend and returning to the Red Cross for meals.
“We survived and we’ve been getting a lot of help from the Red Cross and we’re making it ok,” she says. “We need to find a way to get a permanent roof over our heads.”
“It’s still really like a dream I still haven’t woken from because I can’t believe this – I can’t believe any of it,” she continues.