By Lindsay Peyton
Pastor John Black was at the University of Houston, when the tornado hit on Tuesday, Jan. 24. He had dropped off his wife Misty, who serves as a professor in the education department. He was watching the rain pour from the parking garage, while she led a class inside.
Then, Black received a phone call from his adult children Matthew, 22 and daughter Brittany, 28, who were in town visiting, back at the parsonage of Deer Park UMC. “We’ve just had a tornado,” they told their father.
Black called Misty, and she dismissed her class. The couple raced back to Deer Park to check on the church.
Matthew and Brittany had heard an alert sound on their phones, telling them to take cover. The pressure change caused their ears to pop.
That’s when Brittany and Matthew knew that the tornado was near. They grabbed the cats and dogs and hid in a closet in the parsonage.
“All of the sudden it got really loud,” Black said. “The tornado ripped through the neighborhood. There’s hardly a fence still standing in Deer Park.”
The National Weather Service has confirmed that the tornado, which struck in the south parts of Houston, had a wind speed of 140 mph, with a path length of 18 miles and width of 0.66 miles.
As soon as Black heard the news, his first concern was for the safety of the children attending the church’s preschool and after school program. He phoned staff and learned that, fortunately, the preschool had let out, and the after school students had not arrived when the tornado swept through.
“It literally went – if not right over us – over the big lot next door,” Black said.
There was roof damage on both the parsonage and the church, as well as about a dozen felled trees. Water damage resulted in a ceiling collapse in a Sunday school class. A number of electric poles were down, and power will be out for some time.
The pastor put the church on the back burner, and immediately started calling parishioners. “The first thing was to check on church folks,” he said. “My associate called everyone on the roster.”
No one was hurt, Black said. “A couple of people are looking at (building) a new house. Almost everyone is looking at a new roof out here.”
Residents are waiting on insurance claims – and to have electricity restored, Black explained. In the meantime, a few members have volunteered to put the fence back up on the church campus.
“That’s the thing about Deer Park,” Black said. “Everyone is pitching in to help everyone else, our whole neighborhood.”
For instance, he was out checking on the elderly who live alone in his neighborhood and planned to remove limbs from the yard later that day. When he arrived back at the church, however, the branches were already removed and stacked on the curb.
“I’ve seen that throughout the entire city,” Black said. “As soon as the tornado passed, people were out in the street helping each other.” He believes that residents are still in shock. “It’s a scary thing,” he said. “Tornadoes don’t happen here in January. Everyone is focused on getting it fixed.”