Floresville Volunteer Firefighter Arturo Quintana overlooks the damage caused by the tornado. Photo by Scott Ball.
Floresville Volunteer Firefighter Arturo Quintana overlooks the damage caused by the tornado. Photo by Scott Ball.

While San Antonio experienced strong winds and hard downpours Friday morning, a tornado touched down 30 miles south of the city, striking the Floresville High School, five houses on nearby A Street and two neighborhood restaurants, and forcing the closure of Hwy. 181 FM.

No one was seriously injured by the twister in the town of 7,021 located along the San Antonio River in Wilson County, which also is home to Rancho de las Cabras, the Spanish colonial-era ranch that is part of the World Heritage designation granted to the four Spanish missions and the Alamo. But the tornado did do considerable property damage where it set down and left residents in a state of distress and unable to use the principal highway that runs through the town. As of Friday at 5 p.m. the highway remained closed with downed power lines and scattered debris, although some vehicles were seen moving along stretches of the highway.

As I arrived, the local H-E-B parking lot had been sectioned off to make room for emergency vehicles and operations using upside down shopping baskets.

A stretch of houses were hit by the tornado leaving trash from the surrounding area strewn across front lawns. Photo by Scott Ball.
A stretch of houses were hit by the tornado leaving trash from the surrounding area strewn across front lawns. Photo by Scott Ball.

Most bystanders and television cameras were aimed at the roof of the local Holiday Inn Express which was bearing the weight of a large trailer on top of the three-story hotel. I crossed Hwy. 181 and attached myself to relief efforts that were taking place by community volunteers.

A Wilson County ambulance parks in the parking lot outside the Floresville Holiday Inn Express, the site of a trailer that landed on top of the roof. Photo by Scott Ball.
A Wilson County ambulance parks in the parking lot outside the Floresville Holiday Inn Express, the site of a trailer that landed on top of the roof. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball/ San Antonio Report

My first encounter was with Martin Pettersson, a school bus driver for Floresville Independent School District. I asked Martin to recall the events that transpired.

“I was on the Westside picking up the elementary kids for the North Elementary School. We had a couple of buses already working in this area. We had one bus – and I haven’t seen it – and the driver said he was going up C Street and a tree got uprooted right in front of him so he slammed his brakes on and a fence comes and hits the windshield, shatters the windshield. He had kids on board but nobody got hurt.” Pettersson said. “If it had hit the high school (an hour later when kids were in school) that would have been bad.”

Pettersson spent most of the morning ferrying children from South to North Elementary School.

Standing near Sheldon Kotara, an H-E-B corporate employee and former resident of Floresville, was helping pick up wreckage along 10th Street.

Floresville ISD bus driver Martin Peterrsson (left) points at damage down the road as HEB employee Sheldon Kotara looks on. Photo by Scott Ball.
Floresville ISD bus driver Martin Pettersson (left) points at damage down the road as HEB employee Sheldon Kotara looks on. Photo by Scott Ball.

“We got chainsaws and everything to help. I used to work for their construction for 25 years so I know a lot about how to out things together and fix them. Right now they are still assessing and they said to hold off. They’ve got live power lines. We are just on standby. I know the people who own Lazy Jay’s (Barbecue) here and that is just gone.”

An owner of Lazy J Bar-B-Q looks through the yellow pages after his business is destroyed. Photo by Scott Ball.
An owner of Lazy J Bar-B-Q looks through the yellow pages after his business is destroyed. Photo by Scott Ball.

I spent time with employees and family members of Taqueria Veliz, which had significant damage to the east side of the restaurant.  Kitchen equipment, exterior walls, and bent paneling all had to come out and down to start the rebuilding process.

Grisela Orta (left), Jannery Veliz (right), and Jesus Cortina (left) all work on removing kitchen equipment from Veliz Taqueria after a tornado damaged the building Friday morning. Photo by Scott Ball.
Grisela Orta (left), Jannery Veliz (right), and Jesus Cortina (left) all work on removing kitchen equipment from Taqueria Veliz after a tornado damaged the building Friday morning. Photo by Scott Ball.
Owner of Veliz Taqueria Arazely Veliz comforts her grandson Juan Carlos as a portion of the building is taken down. Photo by Scott Ball.
Taqueria Veliz Owner Arazely Veliz comforts her grandson Juan Carlos as a portion of the building is taken down. Photo by Scott Ball.

Courtney Chilek, a mother of two and nurse with the labor and delivery department at Downtown Baptist Hospital in San Antonio, resides in one of the small row of houses hit by the tornado.

Courtney Chilek looks at the destruction caused to her home. Photo by Scott Ball.
Courtney Chilek looks at the destruction caused to her home. Photo by Scott Ball.

“We were sleeping and I guess it all came in at 6:05 in the morning. We were in bed and I kept getting alerts on my phone. I thought it was my alarm going off. It said, ‘Tornado warning in this county,’ and it said, ‘Please take cover’. About five minutes went by and my son came into the bedroom, I guess, because of the storm. My daughter was still in her bed. It didn’t seem that bad at the time, but then all of a sudden the winds started picking up and we started hearing that whistling noise and I hustled it to my daughter and picked her up. I told my husband, ‘Go get in the tub with Gatlin’. I went and got my daughter, and just as I went and stepped into the tub and crouched down over her, and we couldn’t even get the curtain pulled before the windows blew out and glass was all over us. It literally lasted about one or two minutes and then all of a sudden everything went serene. We came outside and our vehicles, the windows were blown out.”

Courtney Chilek looks at a bedroom window that was broken by the tornado. Photo by Scott Ball.
Courtney Chilek looks at a bedroom window that was broken by the tornado. Photo by Scott Ball.

“My poor little kid just looked up and said, ‘What was that?’

“My mother-in-law came and picked myself and the kids up because there was glass all in the house.”

Courtney Chilek looks out her bathroom window where her and her children were taking shelter when the tornado touched down near her house.  Photo by Scott Ball.
Courtney Chilek looks out her bathroom window where her and her children were taking shelter when the tornado touched down near her house. Photo by Scott Ball.

Top Image: Floresville Volunteer Firefighter Arturo Quintana overlooks the damage caused by the tornado.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

Wimberley, Devasted by Flood, Endures

Rancho de las Cabras, A Forgotten World Heritage Gem

A Survivor and Her Family, After the Wimberley Flood

Scott Ball

Scott Ball is San Antonio Report's photo editor and grew up in San Antonio.