45 Seconds and Gone: The Aftermath of the December 26, 2015 Tornadoes

By Lisa Morgan, staff contributor, American Red Cross

“I lost all my Christmas decorations in the tornadoes last year,” said Judi Bennett. She was one of thousands of people in Garland, TX whose life was forever altered by the devastating tornadoes that ripped through the Metroplex on December 26, 2015. A year later life is different in so many ways and all of it is positive.

The view outside Judi’s window after the tornado.

Judi had just moved into her new apartment right after Thanksgiving 2015, so the day after Christmas 2015, she was still settling into her apartment. Naturally inquisitive and curious, she admits that she used to enjoy going out and recording Mother Nature unleash her fury. Initially, she was outside recording the storm. However, she had a sense that something wasn’t quite right, so she rushed back inside. She heard the small roar of what sounded like a train and almost instantly the power went out. The next few seconds proved critical as she crouched behind a mattress that was propped up against the wall from her move.

“Just as soon as I got under the mattress, I could hear the glass from the windows shatter, the tree limbs break, and the wind,” said Judi. “When it stopped I had so many thoughts running through my mind, one was what if there was another tornado out there, then I was so glad and thanked God that I set things right in my life. I realized that I could be dead.” As she emerged from underneath her mattress, she discovered that the apartments on both sides of hers were gone and that the roof was gone on her apartment.

Judi's bed covered with debris after her apartment was destroyed.
Judi’s bed covered with debris after her apartment was destroyed.

“It took about three days, I think after it all happened for me to go to the Red Cross,” said Judi. “I stayed with my daughter and son-in-law after it all happened. We went to a shelter and grabbed a blanket and some food and I left, then later I went to the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) at the Gale Recreation Center, I had to wait for hours for my golden ticket (Red Cross case work number), but they had everything you could ever want or need to make the wait more pleasant. They had local restaurants there providing complimentary food.”

Other agencies were there to assist people with their immediate needs. Red Cross casework numbers were used by those agencies to verify that the people requesting services were impacted by the tornado.

“My golden ticket allowed me to get assistance from a number of disaster relief agencies, Islamic [Disaster Relief], Buddhist [Disaster Relief], and even Christian Cable; they let me pick out my own Bible. Garland Power and Light waived utility bills for the month, and then in the building next door, there were people there sorting clothes, food and toiletries and helping you pick out what you wanted and needed.”

Judi’s Jeep was totaled after the storm.

She considers herself one of the lucky ones, her Jeep was insured and so was her apartment. Her renter’s insurance kicked in quickly, and she was in a hotel for a week. Fortunately, the apartment complex relocated her to a sister property right after that. Her daughters thought of an ingenious way to help her by setting up a Wal-Mart gift registry for her. This allowed family and friends from all over to help replace everything that she’d lost.

In losing everything, she felt gained something more by understanding that humanity is everywhere.

“I used to think that there weren’t very many good people in the world, but then you go through something like that, and people were just so giving,” said Judi.

Recovering from a disaster is a process and with any significant loss there will be a mourning period. Judi was no exception to this. Judi says she spent a few weeks feeling overwhelmed about losing everything she owned in a matter of about 45 seconds, but she credits a Red Cross commercial and providence with snapping her back into reality and life.

“I saw the commercial, and it just hit me: this is why God saved me that night, so I could help others when they need it most,” said Judi.

“The Red Cross was there for me when I had absolutely nothing, and in all of that, I still consider myself one of the lucky ones,” said Judi. “It was all just stuff, but the people… I remember when I first stepped out of my apartment, and all I could see were women with their babies all out in the rain with nothing. It hurt to see that they were out there with nothing, and I wanted to do something.”

That feeling sparked Judi’s volunteer career with the American Red Cross. Since losing her home and all of her belongings last year, she was inspired to give back to her community. She chose the Red Cross because of the emergency services that she received.

Now, she’s the person that arrives on the scene of the house fire and hands the family a Red Cross blanket. She gives the flood victims a hug because she understands the hurt and loss that’s in their eyes.

It took a mere 45 seconds last December 26th for Judi to lose everything. But, the next 365 days, she said she has gained more than she could have ever imagined: a restored faith in God, humanity and hope.

Judi volunteering at the 2016 Dallas Veterans Day Parade.

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