JARRELL, Texas (BP)–Texas Baptists responded quickly to put their arms around victims of killer storms which obliterated a subdivision near Jarrell, killing at least 27, damaged the Austin suburb of Cedar Park, causing at least two deaths, and spread random violence across central Texas May 28.
The most destructive tornado — said to be one of the most powerful ever in Texas — cut a path about three-quarters of a mile wide and five miles long, wiping out Double Creek Estates, about a mile west and slightly south of the hamlet of Jarrell, 40 miles north of Austin on Interstate 35.
Max Johnson, bivocational pastor of First Baptist Church, Jarrell, said 10 church members were among the 27 known dead, including the church’s minister of music, Larry Igo, and his family.
Igo, who operated a business restoring 1955-’56-’57 Chevrolets in Jarrell, lived with his family near the center of the subdivision. His wife, Joan, their daughter, Audrey, 17, and twin sons, John and Paul, 15, are among the confirmed dead.
A funeral service was scheduled May 31 at First Baptist Church, Georgetown, where Igo’s parents live.
The Cedar Park storm killed at least two people as it tore a gaping hole in the roof of a supermarket and damaged scores of homes in the 18,000-population suburb. The devastating weather system also caused damage but no deaths at Spicewood, just west of Austin, at Belton Lake near Temple and Moody, among other places.
Estimates by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross showed the magnitude of the estimated $20 million in damage:
Jarrell — eight mobile homes and 29 homes destroyed; seven homes with major damage.
Cedar Park — 16 homes destroyed; 66 major damage; and 93 minor damage.
Pedernales Valley — 15 homes destroyed; nine major damage; and eight minor damage.
Texas Baptists moved immediately to Jarrell where a headquarters was established at First Baptist to provide food and counseling for victims, families, townspeople and relief workers.
Johnson, whose congregation which averages 40 on Sunday mornings, said his son, Mark, 21, called to tell him a storm was on the ground.
“I could hear it roaring,” Johnson said, noting it missed his home. When the storm subsided, he went to the feed mill to check on Mark, who had ridden out the storm in a feed pit, and then on to the Double Creek Estates, where some church members live.
Johnson said that by early Friday, officials had found 27 “clear bodies and some body parts.” Other sources said some of the victims were dismembered or badly mangled, making the job of official identification much harder. In some cases, dental records, DNA or fingerprints were required for official identification.
The subdivision, which had an estimated 25 to 50 homes, was a blend of ranchettes, homes on lots and mobile homes. The storm swept some slabs clean, sucking up even the tile from the floors, but left rubble at other sites and piles of splintered lumber and shredded insulation at still others.
The storm was so strong it picked up asphalt from the subdivision’s roads and even pulled grass from the ground. National Weather Service observers at the scene said the storm probably contained winds in excess of 260 miles per hour.
One rescue worker said it was like “a giant broom swept the whole area … like someone just came and wiped it clean.”
Johnson got to the area before the emergency workers and found four bodies. “All I saw was devastation,” he said. Later, he went back to the small church near the center of town and opened the facilities to begin doing whatever he could to provide services to the families and survivors.
He soon was joined by James Haskell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Georgetown, the county seat of Williamson County, about 10 miles away and Oris Smith, director of missions of the Williamson Baptist Association.
Texas Baptist resources began to arrive during the night, as Tommy Dulin, a member of River Hills Baptist Church, Corpus Christi, arrived to be on-site coordinator for the Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief.
In the early morning hours, food preparation units from Tyler and Fort Worth came with their trailers and full teams to begin feeding operations. Shortly after midnight, Milfred Minatrea, director of the Church Services Department at the Baptist General Convention of Texas, arrived to begin counseling and family assistance services to the residents of the unincorporated town, which has a population estimated at anywhere from 400 to 1,000.
Minatrea’s wife, Pam, and teenagers Kish, Allison and Josh came along to help in food preparation and shuttling the meals to the field.
A number of other volunteers showed up to help, among them Charles Whitaker, a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Terrell, who said he figured TBM would be on hand, so he just took off from work to help. Candy Huber, a secretary in Round Rock, and member of First Baptist Church there, told her boss she wanted the day off to help. She spent the afternoon handing out water, lemonade, tea and compassion.
During the first days of the relief effort, many of the people didn’t eat much, workers said. Coordinator Dulin said the estimate of food needed was scaled down, in part because of the shock of the event, the heat of late May and the fact Salvation Army and Red Cross units also were providing food and drink.
Teams served food to all who needed something to eat. Dulin said TBM was preparing food to be taken to homeless people in Cedar Park, beginning late Thursday, May 29. The meals were ferried to the north Austin suburb by Emergency Relief Vehicles provided by the Red Cross.
Also working with the TBM relief team was David Oats, volunteer youth minister at First Baptist, Jarrell.
Oats, who sold his residence in Jarrell the first of the year and moved to Salado, about 20 miles north, spent much of the day May 28 ferrying food to search and rescue teams.
He leaned on the side of a pickup truck and gazed at the windswept emptiness which once was a thriving subdivision. “I’ve heard reports of anywhere from 24 to 50 houses here, but I can just about start at one end and tell you who all of the families are. The most I can come up with is 26,” he said.
“This is a small town, and you can just about name everybody here. That’s the thing that hurts. … I’ve known everybody who lived here for years. I have visited in many of these homes. … I know the folks and all the kids. I lost some of my kids and some of my best friends.”
He looked at a meager pile of rubble, all that was left of the Igo residence, and talked of meeting the family when they first moved to Jarrell 12 years ago.
“He liked old cars; I like old cars. We became friends. I lost my best friend … .”