Onalaska residents left to fend for themselves after tornado damage

ONALASKA,Texas (KTRK) -- A month after an F3 tornado cut a swath through Polk County in East Texas, the first steps in the recovery process are taking place.

The Yaupon Cove Subdivision near Onalaska took a direct hit. Three people were killed, hundreds of houses were damaged and 235 were destroyed.

"You hear chainsaws and the sound of construction going on," said Johnny Byrd, whose house was damaged. His darkest memory was finding the body of one of his neighbors, one of the three people who died in the storm.

Onalaska's mayor said the area did not qualify for FEMA disaster funds, and no state money toward recovery has been received. He said he was told that about 20% of the homes were not insured, which could mean some of those people will not be returning.

At Jerry's cafe in Onalaska, meals are being served again in the dining room. Many of the customers are familiar to her, each with tales of what the tornado cost them. "One of them is living with his daughter in Spring, because his home is gone," said Jeanne Ann Smith Byrd, whose great grandfather owned a mercantile in town, founded in 1903. Referring to the customer, "he said he had to come back here to eat and catch up."

She and her son agrees it will take time to recover, "but we're tough," she said. "There's a sign that says Onalaska Strong. And we are."

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