VAN — Working out of the back of his vehicle, 60-year-old Tom Stanton, of Rockwall, did his part to help the relief effort in Van by sharpening chainsaw blades dulled by workers cutting trees and other debris.
Stanton arrived Monday after a portion of the city was decimated Sunday night by an F-3 tornado, killing two people and injuring 47 others.
The tornado cut a nine-mile path through Van Zandt County, beginning north of Edom, tearing through Van and ending south of the Pruitt community. The swath was estimated at 700 yards wide. More than 120 homes were heavily damaged or destroyed.
Van Zandt County officials said Tuesday afternoon two people remained in critical condition and nine others were still being treated in Tyler hospitals.
Stanton, who sharpens beauty shears and other items for his business in Rockwall, said he has responded to disaster areas across the nation for the past decade, offering his sharpening services for free.
"I went to New Orleans after Katrina to help but I really didn't know how. I eventually saw this guy using a file the wrong way. I asked if he would let me do it, and I knew that is how I could best help," he said. "People need sharp blades to cut the trees. It all works together."
Stanton is one of hundreds of volunteers who have traveled from across the state to Van this week, hoping to lend helping hands, from clearing roads, to hauling debris, to offering food and beverages.
The volunteer ranks are many, but there still are scores more who want to help but have been turned away at checkpoints entering the city or whose access has been postponed until they are able to obtain a permit to access the affected areas.
At a check point on Texas Highway 110 just south of the city, authorities on Tuesday were telling those wanting to volunteer to turn around or to take another road into town.
At City Hall around noon, several dozen volunteers arrived and tried to obtain a permit to enter the neighborhoods, but some were turned away, including some who said they were family members of residents with damaged homes.
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Van Mayor Dean Stone said officials were limiting access to only essential people due to safety concerns, including potential looting. Some residents told media on Tuesday they had items stolen from their homes late Monday night.
"We have some real serious safety factors out there. ... This is still a disaster area and will be that way and stay that way until further notice," Stone said.
Stone and Van Zandt County Emergency Management Coordinator Chuck Allen said they were developing a process to allow volunteers into the area. Allen said a plan was devised for Tuesday, but some people circumvented police lines and made their way into the neighborhoods without permission. As a result, all volunteers would be required to gather at the Van Methodist Church Wednesday morning for orientation before dispersing into the community.
Stone said transportation might be provided within the area for volunteers to keep roadways clear from unnecessary vehicles.
"We don't want to turn anyone away, but for our law enforcement the safety of those individuals and the safety of our people is the utmost concern," Allen said.
Allen said all residents would be required to have identification showing they live in the area to enter or re-enter the off-limit zones.
The shock of the storm has worn off for many, and the process of rebuilding has begun.
The shell-shocked look on many residents' faces Monday, was on Tuesday replaced by a looks of determination.
Floyd Lennox, owner of InTex Painting and Construction, and several of his crew worked to secure his business on Tuesday morning just north of the Van city limits on Jamestown Road.
"Yeah the shock was over the next day," he said. "Now everybody is working to get things back to normal."
Lennox became very emotional as he talked about how his daughter hid under the stairs of one of the buildings on the property during the tornado.
"If she would have been upstairs in her apartment, she wouldn't be here now. It would have taken her," he said weeping.
Lennox said the first priority now is to clear the lot and get busy putting his business back together.
"This is just stuff. We are going to make sure we can secure as much as we can, and then we will rebuild," he said.
Stone said he was amazed at the progress made throughout the past 48 hours.
"I would not have dreamed we would have had made this much progress," he said. "We are doing well. We are in much better shape than I ever dreamt we would be today."