SAN ANGELO, Texas – It's understandable that the people of San Angelo and Eldorado, Texas, would be a bit shell-shocked today. They've been rocked by revelations of alleged child sex and polygamy next door, invaded by hundreds of journalists for nearly a week, and now pummeled by Mother Nature.
As a reporter, I've seen my share of human tragedy and natural disasters. They take an emotional toll, even for someone who knows exactly what to expect.
And, deep down, I expected a tornado to hit here last night.
What convinced me was a conversation with a lifelong San Angelo resident who approached me after seeing a report about the investigation at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound.
|VIDEO: Polygamist compound search ends|
"You know that's terrible business," he said, "but San Angelo is still the safest place in America."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"It was determined by insurance companies," he said, "this is the least likely city in the country for a natural disaster."
"But you have a river," I said, "surely it floods."
"Used to way back when, but they fixed that back in the thirties," he answered proudly.
I looked at him suspiciously, in that way journalists do.
"How about tornadoes?" I asked. This is, after all, Texas.
"Nope," he said, "last one was in 1952 or maybe '57."
I should have run for cover then and there. Instead, I smiled and said, "Well, you sure have a nice town."
And I meant it. The people of west Texas are as friendly as anywhere, with a dry sense of humor, sun-parched skin, and warm hearts. If you mention that you're hungry, they'll feed you until you have to beg them to stop.
They worry that the revelations about what investigators say was going on at the polygamous sect's compound – known as the YFZ ranch – will somehow make you think poorly of Texas. But mostly, they worry about the children and young women who've been removed from the compound, and they sincerely pray for their well-being.
It was surely a coincidence, that just hours after police announced their search of the compound had ended last night, tornado sirens began ringing across San Angelo.
Minutes later, the city was pounded by a ferocious storm.
I woke up after midnight, with hail pounding the roof of my hotel, and word that a tornado had been spotted in town, just half a mile away.
Selfishly, my first thought was of my car, parked outside near a small tree.
"There goes my insurance premium," I was thinking as I moved from my third-floor room to the safer lobby area. Then my thoughts turned to the people of this friendly city.
"They don't deserve this," I thought. And I meant it.
Sometimes, when it rains it pours.