The tower in Rowlett, Texas, withstood a tornado that severely damaged the area in 2015 and served as a reminder of how the community used to be as rebuilding efforts continue.
Typically, removing a piece of damaged water infrastructure wouldn’t be met with any pushback, but some residents of Rowlett, Texas, were a little sad to see one of the city’s water towers demolished this week. The reason? The water tower was one of the few remaining signs of what existed before a tornado outbreak ripped through the community and surrounding areas on Dec. 26, 2015, killing 13 people. About 1,300 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, but the water tower was a sign of resiliency as rebuilding efforts got underway in the subsequent months.
“The tornado went right over the tower, and the tower held up,” City Manager Brian Funderburk told the Dallas Morning News. “In that moment in the time we were trying to make some sense of the disaster, that picture was a powerful image.”
“When I’m coming home, I see it. I know I’m headed in the right direction,” Ima Allen said to local TV affiliate CBS DFW.
Allen said a lot has changed in the area — located 15 miles outside of Dallas — and many of her old neighbors have moved, but the water tower remained as a reminder of the past. It was constructed in 1980.
“At one point, I didn’t even want to live here anymore. But then I come and I look at the tower, I said, OK, I have memories. So I’ll stay. I’ll rebuild,” says Allen.
“Hate to see it go,” Tim Smith told CBS DFW. “It’s kind of become an icon for the residents here, just for the simple fact that you can look at it and remember the tornado. It’s going to be missed.”
Although left standing after the tornado, the water tower did sustain structural damage. Its cross bases were bent and the bowl had shifted and turned, so it was drained and stabilized with cables. The water utility absorbed the tower’s functions months ago. The city maintains six other water towers and does not plan on replacing this one. Because of the tower’s age and 160-foot-tall size, FEMA and the city’s insurance were only able to cover half of what it would have taken to rebuild the tower.
“We’ve known for a long time it was going to have to come down,” Funderburk says, noting that there had been months of tests by local and federal inspectors but the tower was ultimately deemed damaged beyond repair.
A couple hundred members of the community came out Monday to watch workers dismantle it.
“It has been the view out my back door for 29 years,” Teresa Prunty Bass said to the Dallas Morning News. “The sky is going to look empty when it’s gone.”
The demolished water tower will live on in a way, though. Pieces of it will be kept for use in public art installations around the community.