On January 2023, according to the National Weather Service, nearly four times the typical monthly number tornados occurred across the United States. On January 24th, one of those storms, a strong EF3 tornado, ripped through several Houston-area suburbs, bringing windspeeds of between 136 and 165mph. The American Red Cross was on the scene soon after to offer aid to those affected by this tornado.

One local woman, who sought refuge at the Red Cross Baker Ripley shelter, chose to speak to a Red Cross staff member about her experience. Below is a translated transcript detailing her harrowing experience. 

“Yesterday I had a very difficult experience,” said Jaqueline Gallegos. “We had never been through a tornado. I lived in an apartment with my brother, my daughter and my two cousins. The tornado went through while my daughter was at school nearby. I heard a very loud noise, as if a fast train were approaching. There was a deafening sound and it rained and rained in sheets. Just then my brother was on the bed and when the tornado hit us he and my cousin ran to the door and closed it. Everything started to shake and fall apart. It was a horrible, horrible, stressful sound.”

She continued, “After the tornado passed my cousin went to the door, and it was completely torn apart. The windows were broken and the bed full of shards. Same with the second floor, with a lot of glass strewn everywhere. We were very worried because we did not know what to do.”

Shaken, Gallegos she continued, “We were left with nothing. We have nothing. We’ve only been able to pull out what we can pull out; the essential things for living day-to-day.  It’s a terrible, ugly experience, a very bad experience. I’m anguished and I feel very sad for all the efforts made by my brother and my two cousins to give us a better life. Instead we have lost everything. All we can do is keep going, and keep fighting and fighting. I have a daughter to take care of and thank God my brother is with me who is a great support. And I have to keep going.”

When asked how she felt when she saw the tornado coming realizing her daughter was still at school, she said, “What happened is that I for some reason, I felt the urge to turn on the news and I even said to my brother and my cousin that a tornado was headed here. But something told me to look at the TV. I never could have imagined this. And when they said that that the tornado was expected to arrive at 2:30 p.m., I told my brother that I was worried because my daughter was still at school. Just then, at the expected time, the tornado went through, and my brother tried to call the school but the school did not pick up.”

She continued, “For me it was a horrible feeling of anxiety not knowing where my daughter was. She is only five years old. She is my only daughter. Two years ago I lost my son. And the only thing I have left is my daughter. My brother was desperate to reach the school. He kept saying ‘my girl, my girl’! And as soon as the tornado had gone through, even though it was still raining, my brother ran outside looking for my daughter. He found her walking alone back home because the school had dropped her off on the corner. And since she and I walk to and from school every day, she more or less knew the way back and was following the other children. When my brother saw my daughter, he went running to her and hugged her very hard. He started to cry. My daughter’s shoes were wet, her socks and clothes were also wet. There was water everywhere. It was very distressing.”

Talking about the help she received, the woman said, “It was as if God had sent the Red Cross volunteers to us. We had someone who could help. Not that they were going to bring us riches, but they gave us what we needed now, like blankets, food, and a place to stay. I am very grateful for that. God must love them. They are very good people. And I said to myself, they will help us, and they were helping us. They were doing everything possible for us. I am grateful for that.”

Red Cross aid to those affected by last week’s tornado continues. Please go to redcross.org/Texas to donate to help those affected by the recent tornadoes. If you would like to volunteer in your local community, go to redcross.org/volunteer and sign up today. Once you have signed up please send an email with your contact information to TGCRVolunteers@redcross.org.

Story by Francisco Philibert