LINDALE — Matt Rhinehart was driving down Highway 69, on the phone with his wife and trying to get home to his family, when the tornado struck.

"The last thing she said to me was, ‘I love you' and the call ended," he said Saturday as he worked to clean the fallen limbs and trees the storm left behind. "I thought they were dead."

Things were just as terrifying on the other end of the line.

Rhinehart's uncle Evis Rhinehart, who lives next door, was attempting to get everyone inside to safety when the sirens sounded. Moments later, he heard the massive roar as the tornado hit about 6 p.m. Friday.

"Between the stuff falling down, breaking and hitting the house I was more concerned about things coming through (the roof)," he said. A tree did come through the roof, but no one was injured.

The severe storm that blew through Friday evening caused plenty destruction but no major injuries to those in its path. The National Weather Service confirmed the tornado Saturday and declared it an EF-1. 

Evis Rhinehart was counting his blessings Saturday morning, working to clear debris from his yard on Farm-to-Market 16 just outside of downtown Lindale, as volunteers began to show up, asking how they could help.

"I'm not an outgoing kind of person, but when people come out and help you, you can't help but feel good about it," he said.

Just down the street, 79-year-old Andy Anderson recounted how he did something Friday he'd never done in all his years of watching storms blow through East Texas — take shelter from the storm. 

His daughter, Julie Barnett, said she knew it was serious when she called Friday night to see if her parents were safe.

"Mom and dad were in the bathtub and I just started praying with her when she said my dad was in the bathtub with her," Mrs. Barnett said. "My dad never, ever takes shelter. He's usually standing on the porch. He's never taken shelter, he's always watched the storms come in. This time he could hear it and it was bad."

Suddenly, the call dropped and Julie scrambled to make her way to Lindale when she couldn't get her parents back on the line.

"I thought they had died. I was trying to get over here as fast as I could," she said. "The neighbors couldn't even get to them."

When Mrs. Barnett arrived on FM 16, she found the road blocked. They parked more than a mile from her parents house and began making their way through the tangled mess of trees, power lines and debris.

What she found surprised her. Her parents were stuck inside the home, but she saw her father attempting to cover a window so water wouldn't get into the house. It seemed like a futile effort, considering one back corner of the house was destroyed.

"They'll rebuild," Mrs. Barnett said. "My great grandfather, William Wells, lost his life in the Alamo and the state gave us the land. My grandparents lived here and the generation before them.  My brother and I grew up in this house."

A few doors down, Chris Melton was having trouble taking in the scene at his daughter's home.

The house had been lifted and moved more than ten feet, with his daughter and her family inside.  They were uninjured and ended up climbing out the back of the house.

On Saturday, there were dozens of large black pots strewn through the house and yard, carried from the nursery nearby. And then there was the matter of the piece of sheetmetal wrapped around a tree out front, and other similar pieces on the property, origins unknown.

The trail of metal continued a few hundred yards away to where the owner of those black pots was assessing the damage to his business.

"It's like a warzone," Bob Wells said. "We'll recover, it's just a lot of clean up."

Wells was coordinating volunteers Saturday morning when they found a massive metal door that had slammed into his nursery. He believes it came from a barn about a quarter of a mile away.

Wells was taken aback by the kindness of the strangers who showed up asking for nothing, looking to help.

"Y'all are making my heart so overwhelmed, I just can't get over it," he told the volunteers as they offered to cut the metal skeleton of a crushed greenhouse to save the trees beneath it.

"It's hard to describe. God's mercy and grace has always been with me and it was with me on this again," he said. "No one was hurt."

Twitter: @TMT_Cory


Here's a recap of live coverage provided throughout the day Saturday from Tyler Morning Telegraph mulimedia journalists Sarah Miller and Cory McCoy, on Twitter at @TMT_Sarah and @TMT_Cory.


Damage also was reported in the Hawkins area. Tyler Paper reporter Cory McCoy reports extensive damage near the Nestle-Ozarka Waters manufacturing plant on 3265 FM 2869 in Hawkins.



Both @TMT_Sarah and @TMT_Cory advise travelers to avoid FM16, saying there is heavy damage and scattered debris in roadways.



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