It’s been one year since a deadly tornado hit North Texas. Rowlett suffered the most damage with nearly 1,300 homes and businesses damaged.
“Every single house has a story in some way,” said Mayor Todd Gottel
We walked through the Highland Meadows North neighborhood with Rowlett Mayor Todd Gottel, In at least one case, a tornado damaged home still sits untouched and Christmas decorations are still in place from December 26th, 2015.
“So to see a house in this condition after this period of time, basically after a year, really saddens me because you know there's history here and for some reason they haven't been able to rebuild,” he said.
Mayor Gottel said it's a different picture than one year ago when debris and trees covered the street.
“This particular street is probably one of the more hard hit areas that you'd see,” he said.
As we moved from lot to lot, it’s clear no story is the same.
"It looks great! It means there will be a family moving back in soon, more memories and a life that's going to continue,” said Mayor Gottel, looking at a new home.
In another case, a concrete slab sits where a home used to be.
“This was someone's home, there was a kitchen more than likely in that area there."
Mayor Gottel took three months off from his job as an investment advisor when the tornado hit. His role as mayor took over so he could provide direction for his city.
“It was just the right thing to do. I was just very blessed that my home was not impacted by the storm.”
His leadership earned him a nomination for 'Texan of the Year' from the Dallas Morning News. Some people even dubbed him ‘Bat-Mayor’ because, like the super-hero, he seemed to be everywhere when people needed him.
“They'll just show up with a note and say 'thank you for your service' and it’s very, very kind."
He showed us gifts he's received from people in Rowlett that represent his new nickname. He has everything from a coffee mug, to a leather jacket with a bat symbol on the back. Other gifts, like a bat sign made from tornado debris, are more meaningful.
“When I see all the amount of debris we had in the streets and someone took the time to collect some of that and put this together, it's a very special piece to me,” he explained.
The debris is mostly cleared now and many families are going home. While there are stories of long-time neighbors who moved on and will not be back, others chose to stay in the same spot.
"I actually met them during the tornado,” Mayor Gottel said, walking up to a home. “Their home was completely destroyed."
He referred to the Wilson's new home on their old lot. It's a brand new home with new trees thanks to volunteers who planted them in December.
“It kind of just represents new roots, a new beginning and just a fresh start in the community,” Mayor Gottel said. "Every day is a milestone. Every time someone moves back in, it's a day to rejoice and say 'Yes! The Wilson's are back!' It's just really great."