By Brad Kellar and Joseph Hamrick
The Commerce Journal
COMMERCE — Although Commerce was not struck by the series of tornadoes that occurred on April 3, it bore much of the impact of the severe weather caused by the storm cell.
The final results confirmed the tornado, which was on the ground for 11.1 miles and had a maximum width of 750 yards, as an EF-1.
Hunt County Emergency Management Coordinator Richard Hill said “multiple homes” were damaged or destroyed and at least four people were reported injured, including one man who was thrown from his mobile home.
Reports show the cell retained its strength and dropped large hail and damaging winds as it moved its way slowly west to east along U.S. Highway 380 through Collin County and into Hunt County. Princeton and Farmersville were reported to have been struck by tornadoes as the storm progressed.
Winds reached near 70 mph as the cell dumped baseball-size hail in Commerce before finally exiting the county
The Buena Vista Apartment Complex on Park Street in Commerce was hit hard by the storm, as hail and winds from the storm knocked out more than 100 windows as the storm rolled through.
Commerce resident Jessica Martin was in her apartment at the complex at the time of the storm.
Martin called her fiance, Brandon Akers, to come over from work so she could make sure he was safe.
Akers arrived minutes before the storm hit and the couple sought shelter inside the apartment.
“We were sitting in the bathtub, hearing glass shattering all around us, and I couldn’t help but wonder which window in our apartment was getting knocked out, what all was getting wet, and just prayed that my car’s windshield was okay,” she said. “Once it had finally moved over, we moved our bed away from the window, and stepped outside our door.”
Martin said once they were outside, she saw the damage the storm left in its wake.
“All our neighbors were coming out to cover their windows because the rain and wind were still blowing and my first thought was to grab my fiance, our garbage bags, and the first roll of tape I could find, and just go door to door, making sure our neighbors didn’t need anything,” she said, adding it was the first time she had met some of the neighbors in the complex. “Despite the circumstances, it was nice to see all the neighbors work together to clean up all the glass and cover everyone’s windows, even in the dark and pouring rain.”
Nan Clay, director of the Commerce Public Library, said the library was hosting its GED preparatory and adult literacy program when it was hit by the storm.
“It was kind of an exciting few moments,” she said. “We had 15 others come to seek shelter.”
The storm knocked out 24 window panes of the library and it sustained a flood in the children’s area.
The Commerce Emergency Core responded quickly to the damage the library received and was able to keep the damage to as little as possible, Clay said.
Clay said since they were there during the storm, and had the extra people who sought shelter, they were able to move most of the books that were being soaked by the leaks in the roof.
“If we had not been there that night, we would have lost half of our children’s section,” she said. “It’s just providential that we were there.”
The building itself is insured by the city of Commerce, but currently no one has come to look at the damage.
Because the roof has extensive leaks — they are currently still cleaning their basement which was flooded during a storm six months ago -— Clay said the library cannot get flooding coverage on the contents of the building from insurance companies.
According to Clay, since the city owns the building, it should fix the roof.
“We feel like it’s their building and it needs to be replaced,” she said. “We would love for the city to step up and fix our roof. We’ve got to get that roof fixed one way or another.”
According to Hill, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) contacted the county shortly after the tornado to emphasize that no exemptions applied to what was acceptable for outdoor burning. Trees, brush, natural material and domestic waste — what normally is thrown in kitchen trash — can be burned.
Items prohibited include tires, plastics, furniture, carpet, shingles, etc.
Burning is to be conducted during daylight hours, when wind is less then 23 mph, and a responsible person is present during active burning.
Hill is also reminding affected residents to be careful when contracting with home repair and tree trimming services.