A lone Texas firefighter survived a powerful tornado that devastated his firehouse while he was still inside. It could take until the end of this week to clear all the downed trees and debris in one East Texas city, which was slammed by tornadoes this past Friday night. The residents of Hughes Springs who have been living there for a long time say that they have never seen anything like this before. They are still trying to wrap their heads around the scope of what happened.
Hughes Springs volunteer firefighters sifted through the rubble of their collapsed building, looking for salvageable equipment and records. “It carries a lot of emotions with it too. This was our home for 40 years or so. Of course, it’s sad to see it like this,” veteran volunteer firefighter John Burson told WRAL.
No one knew it at the time, but a firefighter was in the back of the fire department building when the tornado hit. Friday evening, Randy Jones went to the station to get chainsaws and other emergency equipment ready, expecting that he would soon have to help in areas affected by damaging weather. He had no idea what was coming next.
“It just hit. The rain hit, and 10 seconds later the building started coming apart,” Jones recalled. Jones got underneath a vehicle, then a workbench toppled over. This may have shielded him from flying debris. “I was trying to hang on where I wasn’t going through the air,” he explained.
The fire chief is touched by the support of surrounding communities following the tornado
“He called us as soon as he was able to get clear to tell us to take shelter,” Randy’s wife Michelle recalled. “When he got to his phone he said, ‘take shelter, take shelter.’ It was terrifying not knowing if he was really ok. He was still stuck in the building.” Jones didn’t go home right away after he got out. “Same night it hit, he was out until 2 in the morning doing clean up,” Michelle explained.
Hughes Springs Fire Chief Jay Cates has been inundated with offers for help from neighboring communities. He was amazed by the number of people stepping forward and offering to help. “We’ve had departments from hundreds of miles away. Everybody’s heard our situation and offered their help. You just can’t beat that. You get so much help you’ve got to turn some away. Sad, but anybody out there offering, if we don’t take the help, please know we appreciate it,” said Chief Cates.
City hall, previously thought to be beyond repair, may now be saved and restored, according to Randy Kennedy, Hughes Springs’ police chief. Importantly, essential police and city documents were not destroyed by the tornado.