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In the Midst of Chaos: Helping Where Help is Needed After Canton Tornado

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Tony Maples Photography


On Saturday, April 29, 2017, I was chasing a supercell through Van Zandt County in Eastern Texas with my wife, Savannah Weingart and friend, Matt Phelps. We saw the storm in its initial stages south of the town of Malakov. The environment was so unstable it immediately began rotating and was quickly tornado warned.

We followed the wall cloud through town as tornado sirens blared. We headed east then north to reposition as the storm was moving quickly. When we regained visual, the storm had three large funnels, one to the ground. The first tornado lifted but was immediately replaced by another. We followed the tornado north as it tore through the thick forest in the area, lofting full grown trees high into the sky.

The tornado grew into a “wedge”, a term storm chasers use to describe a tornado that is as wide as it is tall.
Canton, Tx tornado
Photo: Facebook/Savannah Weingart

The tornado at this point was estimated to be approximately one mile wide. We followed Highway 19 towards Canton as the twister set its site on the town. It became heavily wrapped in rain as it crossed the road in front of us. The smell of fresh cut pine was overwhelming. This was caused by all the trees it had snapped. Debris was strewn across the road. Power lines were down everywhere. That’s when we realized there were homes along this stretch of road. They were heavily damaged.

Our chase was over. It was time to help.
Canton, Tx tornado damage
Photo: Facebook/Savannah Weingart

The first house we saw was the farm of Canton resident, Sally Knox. We ran across the road as she climbed from the rubble. Her animals were shaken up and bloodied, but she was unharmed, just in complete shock. Sally’s ranch is home to many different animals including camel, zebra, deer, emu, monkeys, parrots, horse and more. We asked if she needed help and she said “yes,” so I jumped the fence and began helping her search for missing animals.

As I walked around her property with her, she noticed a young colt was wedged beneath a fence and buried under debris. She asked if I could get it out, so I took off my camera, set it down and climbed over the damage to get to the horse. It wasn’t moving but appeared conscious. I removed some pieces of debris it was under but it was trapped beneath the fence. I grabbed its hind legs and pulled with all my might until it was freed. The pony still wasn’t moving so I helped it to its feet and miraculously it stood up and walked away, shaken up but unharmed.

We stayed at Sally’s for about an hour helping to free various animals. Most were unharmed, but a few sustained minor injuries and several were missing altogether, although I have since learned a few returned.

My wife was able to flag down a few other people that came and helped. Once I was sure she wasn’t going to be left alone, we moved to safety as newly formed supercells were heading for the area.