Tornado storms through Van; Spirit of community shines on

 “We are Van” is the motto that sums up the identity of the 2,600 people who live in the community of Van.

The town thrives on its oil history and the stellar performance of its school district.

The spirit of Van can be seen in the red banners and signs posted throughout the community. After all  “once you’re a Van Vandal, you’re always a Van Vandal.”

The essence of that community spirit came shining forth May 11 after an EF-3 tornado ravaged most of the northeastern part of the town during the late evening May 10.

“This is a strong city and community. They will bounce back,” Van Zandt County Judge Don Kirkpatrick told an assembled group of media in front of the Frist Baptist Church of Van Monday morning May 11.

EF stands for the Enhanced Fujita, the classification scale for tornadoes. Tornadoes are divided into six categories – EF0 through EF6.  

EF-3s have winds anywhere from 136 to 165 miles per hour, cause severe damage, can lift cars or trains, separate bark from trees, wreck large buildings and remove homes from foundations, according to

Van Zandt County Fire Marshal and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Chuck Allen said that the tornado started about six miles north of Edom.

“The tornado was approximately 700 yards wide and traveled 9.9 miles on the ground before ending one mile southeast of the small community of Pruitt,” Allen said.

Van Independent School District received damage to multiple properties, including the administration building, intermediate and elementary schools and transportation facility.

Debris from homes littered the streets and accumulated in ditches and empty lots, branches from uprooted trees amassed into a tangle and lay heaped into piles and electricity lines and poles splintered the landscape for miles around Van.

More than 200 buildings were destroyed, leaving 550 residents of Van without power and some without a home.

Joshua and Shawnna Otten and their children Abigail and Caleb live on East Texas Street, one block from the intermediate school. Their home had no damage, just a few broken tree limbs.

 “We got in our tornado shelter right around 9 p.m. along with our next door neighbors and neighbors from across the street,” Mrs. Otten said. “We knew it was coming and it lasted about 15 to 20 seconds. After it passed we heard what sounded like hail and my husband and the other men opened the door of the cellar to make sure it was safe.” 


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