On April 29, 2017, I was chasing supercells through Van Zandt County 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 heavily sheared it immediately began rotating and quickly had a tornado warning issued for it.
Torando sirens blared as we followed the wall cloud through town. We drove northeast reposition as the storm was moving quickly. Once we regained visual, the storm had a damaging tornado on the ground, along with two separate funnel clouds. The first tornado lifted after carving a path through the woods, but was immediately replaced by another. We followed the new tornado north as it lofted full grown trees high into the air.
The tornado then expanded to a mile wide wedge tornado. We followed Highway 19 towards Canton as the twister headed into the town. It became rainwrapped as it crossed the road in front of us. The smell of fresh cut pine was immediately noticeable, caused by the trees it had snapped. Debris was strewn across the road. Power lines were down everywhere. That’s when we realized this was a populated area that sustained heavy damage.
We stopped at the farm of Canton resident, Sally Knox and ran across the road as she climbed from her demolished home. . Sally’s ranch is home to exotic animals including camel, zebra, deer, emu, monkeys, parrots, horse and more. Her animals were shaken up and bloodied, but she was unharmed, just in complete shock. We asked if she needed help and she said “yes,” so I jumped the fence and helped her search for her missing animals.
As I walked around her property, she noticed a young colt was buried under debris and wedged beneath a fence. 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. The horse wasn’t moving but appeared conscious. I removed a few pieces of debris, but it was trapped beneath the fence. I grabbed its hind legs and was able to work it free. The pony still wasn’t moving so I helped it to its feet. He miraculously stood up and walked away, shaken, but unharmed.
We remained 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 we were sure she wasn’t going to be left alone, we moved to safety as newly developing supercells had once again set their sights on the area.