NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - To fully understand Jeff Williams’ remarkable survival, you must know he was in a replica of a Caddo grass house.
The president of The Friends of Caddo Mounds and other volunteers labored for months building the grass house by Caddo methods.
“And I can't believe I was in a grass house in a F-3 tornado with 140 mile an hour wind," said Williams as his voice cracked with emotion.
Williams and two others were comfortably sitting by a fire within the house, just like the Caddo people would be doing. A roaring growl was Williams’ warning that this wasn’t just a spring rain.
"And the wind came sweeping through the door and picked the entire fire up and blew it across the floor and up the wall on the inside of the house. It flowed like liquid. It looked like lava,” described Williams.
The walls collapsed on Williams. He knew he had to get out.
"There's about an acre of grass in house and it would have crushed me."
He managed to crawl through a small opening outside to the 1000- year-old sacred ground.
"When I got out I was immediately pummeled by flying debris. As you can see from my arms and the top of my head, I was hit pretty bad."
Williams grew up in Oklahoma. He’s been familiar with twisters since childhood, so he went into survival mode. He described feeling the weight of the tornado.
“It was like a giant hand pushing me down and that might have saved me from the other debris.”
Williams was injured, but had to find the missing couple.
“John and Madeline Ross are both faculty at Tyler Junior College were trapped in the house. They were both deposited a couple hundred yards over here, dropped out of the house as it disintegrated," he said.
Williams had an injured leg, so he crawled the distance.
Searchers of debris found John’s Boy Scout buckle, now a gift of survival Williams plans to give his hospitalized friends.
Other friends were among the more than 50 people inside the Caddo museum. Caddo drummers were playing when the direct hit collapsed the building, wounding 30. Several had critical injuries. One woman died in the parking lot.
“The Caddo song that they were drumming in there was thanking the great Creator and the spirit for all he’s given us. We’re deeply saddened by the loss of life of the woman in the parking lot, but we’re very grateful that everybody else was spared.”
Saved in order to rebuild a museum, a grass house, and the lives of survivors.
PBS has produced a documentary on the construction of the Caddo grass house. It can be found at this link.
To help the victims of these storms, click here to donate to either the American Red Cross or the East Texas Food Bank. Both agencies are working daily in these storm-impacted areas of East Texas.