Life Inspires Music: Dallas Musicians Survive North Texas Tornadoes

by Karsten Doan, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region

Disaster can strike at any time, without warning, hesitation or remorse. We live our lives not expecting to be directly impacted by disaster. Before we know it, life can change abruptly, especially for those affected by disaster, leaving people overwhelmed, emotional and facing what may seem like an impossible situation.  

Hundreds of North Texans are reeling after a tornado outbreak the night of October 20, 2019, looking for support, and supporting each other, as they begin to recover from this historic storm.  

Jesse Cohea, 29, recently moved to Dallas from Los Angeles with friend and business partner CJ Wilagwe, 25, a native of Nigeria. They are pursuing careers in music. With no family nearby, Jesse and CJ , rented space in a recording studio that doubled as their home.  

CJ and Jesse with the American Red Cross volunteers who helped them at the assistance center in Richardson.

The evening of October 20 was a normal one as they took a break from producing music to run out for provisions. Upon returning to the studio, the duo noticed the wind blowing heavier than usual.  

“It was weird, it was so quiet outside, you could hear a pin drop,” Jesse explained. “But out of nowhere it started to sound like a train passing right by my ear, that’s when we knew something wasn’t right.”  

When they attempted to open the door, they couldn’t get in because the wind making it extremely difficult to open. They felt the wind trying to lift them off the ground.  

“That’s when we panicked, we couldn’t get the door open,” CJ said. “Luckily, one of our friends went downstairs to check on us and helped us shove it open from the inside.” 

When they got inside, they realized a friend was still out in the car, trying to open the driver door.  

“I ran back out and pulled the passenger door open and pulled him out,” said Jesse.  

He managed to pull his friend out right before a tree broke and smashed the roof of the car. Safely back in the studio, they heard the loudest noises ever.  

As the tornado tore across their neighborhood, CJ, Jesse and their friends got away from the windows while the wind ripped the roof off the studio, making the sky above them visible. The group hunkered down until the storm subsided and they cautiously navigated through the studio and began checking on other residents.  

“It was so calm before and after the storm,” Jesse said. “It was so creepy and unsettling.”  

The building flooded past their ankles and power lines had fallen. They used their phone lights to navigate, wading through water, ducking and weaving through collapsed pipes and pushing away pink insulation that had fallen out of the walls and ceiling. When they attempted to leave the affected area, they were not able because the wind warped metal gates, rendering them useless. The building suffered such significant structural damage that the group had to wait without much food and water until first responders were able to rescue them. Thankfully, nobody was injured.  

Jesse and CJ were at a loss for what to do after their home and many belongings were damaged in the tornado. They moved what remained into Jesse’s SUV, which also suffered major damage.  

As they started to navigate the recovery process, Jesse and CJ heard about assistance centers for those affected by the tornadoes. They drove to the American Red Cross Assistance Center located at the Richardson Senior Center, not knowing what to expect. When they arrived, Red Cross caseworkers were available to help the aspiring musicians.  

“The Red Cross has been the most helpful out of everybody,” they agreed.  

Due to the significant damage done to their home, the two were eligible for $450 in emergency financial assistance from the Red Cross, thanks to the organization’s generous donors. With the funds, Jess and CJ found a hotel and purchased some necessities as they figured out their next steps.  

They also visited the Multi-Agency Resource Center at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Dallas where the Red Cross and many partnering agencies were available to help anyone affected by the tornadoes. As they visited each of the disaster relief organizations present, they were given blankets and other comfort items and offered additional services to help them as they begin to move forward.  

It’s not Jesse’s first-time facing disaster. He lived in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina made a devastating landfall in 2005 and experienced two earthquakes in Los Angeles.  

Although CJ and Jesse face a long recovery ahead, they maintain smiles and positive attitudes and agree, “Our next song is going to be about y’all at the Red Cross.” 

To learn how you can help people affected by disasters or to volunteer with the American Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org.

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