DALLAS – The wind was whipping and debris flew around his pickup truck when Gary Tucker saw a tornado that was about to lift his vehicle about 20 feet (6 meters) off the ground and toss it like a toy.
Tucker, 52, was caught in a tornado packing winds of up to 200 mph (322 kph) that hit Garland, northeast of Dallas, on Saturday. The twister was part of series in the area that killed 11 people and reduced buildings to splinters.
He stopped his truck, put it into park and stared down the tornado.
“I heard this ‘boom, boom, boom’ sound and then the truck started violently shaking,” he said. “Then the truck was lifted off the ground and I remember thinking ‘I’m dead.’ “
Tucker, a software salesman, said he blacked out and cannot recall what happened next. When he regained consciousness, he said the truck was lying on its side and his girlfriend in the passenger seat was dangling buckled into the seatbelt.
Blood was splattered inside. Tucker and his companion had minor scrapes and bruises, but many on the same stretch of road had died.
After the two crawled out of the truck, Tucker said they were surrounded by about half a dozen vehicles that had been blown off the freeway by one of the most powerful tornados to ever strike the Dallas area.
A ride-on lawn mower that Tucker said he had seen flying through the air from a nearby apartment building landed near the truck.
“It was a very violent tornado and extremely rare to see anywhere,” said Dennis Cavanaugh, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Garland Mayor Douglas Athas said people had little warning before it came.
Tucker said witnesses told him that his Toyota Tundra rolled over at least seven times after it was dropped back to the ground by the twister. The top and sides were smashed and the air bags deployed.
“It looked like it had been flattened for recycling at a wrecking yard,” Tucker said.
“It looked like a war zone out there,” he added.
“You could smell death in the air. It made me sick to my stomach.”