LANCASTER – Owners of about half of the 300 homes and business damaged or destroyed by Tuesday’s tornado were allowed to return to their properties Wednesday afternoon.
For most of the day Wednesday, Lancaster evacuated the impacted neighborhoods and forbid anyone to enter – even private property owners – until building inspectors could assess damage first.
"This is not their homes," one homeowner complained. "We pay for this."
Others held protest signs outside police roadblocks. Protesters said other cities in North Texas have not been as restrictive to private property owners.
Lancaster Mayor Marcus E. Knight asked for patience, and said the structures remaining off-limits are too dangerous to enter.
"No one was hurt during the tornado," Knight said. "We don’t want that to happen after the tornado."
Still, he would not say when the remaining 150 property owners will be allowed back in, or what is even preventing their return.
Many residents allowed back in on Wednesday returned to unstable structures, tangled wires, scattered bricks, collapsed walls, and attic insulation blown over most everything.
"Everything I got, clothes and everything, is still in there," said Marye Scott, a tornado victim who put a few belongings in plastic bags on Wednesday evening. "That’s what I wanted to see, because I still have on the same thing I had on when the tornado came."
"It’s a miracle I’m still here," Albert Smith, one of Scott’s neighbor’s, added.
The twister tore his place apart, but didn’t touch his bathroom, where he holed up with a pillow and blanket.
"Don’t think I didn’t say a serious prayer in that bathroom," he continued. "I said some real serious prayers, real quick!"
Under a collapsed roof, Scott’s collection of ceramic angels sits untouched. She believes they watched over her and her neighbors during the twister’s rampage.
"I’m not mad," she said. "I’m happy that we’re all safe and sound."
Surprisingly, optimism isn’t that hard to find here, though normalcy is anything but near.
Governor Rick Perry plans to fly over the tornado’s destruction at 9:30 on Thursday morning and hold a news conference an hour later at Lancaster’s football stadium.