James Niggemeyer’s trip back from the Western swing turned worrisome for the Elite Series pro, but he’s grateful his family is fine after a tornado devastated their hometown of Van, Texas.
Midway through his 20-hour drive from Lake Havasu City, Niggemeyer learned his hometown was under a tornado warning. His wife, Sandy, was home with their two children.
“I would call every so often, and she said, ‘We’re in the hallway, in the bathtub,’ ” he said. “I talked to her after the fact and she had no idea. It had just happened, all the damage was done. She was on Facebook and people were texting and she said, ‘Let me let you go. Looks like something happened.’ ”
A tornado with 140 mph winds swept through Van around 8:45 p.m. Sunday, destroying about 30 percent of the town and leaving two dead. Niggemeyer, who was still about an hour’s drive away when contacted midday Monday, said it touched down about a mile from his home.
“It’s pretty much a giant mess,” he said of Van, a town of 2,600 about an hour east of Dallas. “I guess it went right through town. Apparently, it destroyed 100 homes. A buddy of mine said I won’t believe it, it’s terrible.
“He said I can’t go down the main drag. I have to take an alternate route to get to my house. Just thank God Sandy and the kids are fine.”
Niggemeyer said he experienced a feeling of helplessness as he was in Amarillo when Sandy told him of the approaching storm and tornado warnings.
“It’s worse when you’re not there,” he said. “You wish you could do something and you’re hundreds of miles away.”
Sandy worried for her mother, who lives just down the road but the power was out and she couldn’t be immediately contacted, but she was unharmed. Niggemeyer said the neighbors needed help as they have three diabetic children whose medication needed to be refrigerated.
“We have a generator so they came over to bring insulin at 1:30 to keep it cold,” he said. “There were all up till past 2.”
He said the incident puts everything in perspective. Although he had a good swing by making the cut in Sacramento and finishing 14th on Lake Havasu, fishing quickly took a back seat. He said it brought back vivid memories of good friends Kevin and Kerry Short.
The Shorts left a tournament last year when their home in Arkansas was destroyed by a tornado. Niggemeyer visited them afterward offering help.
“You don’t quite get it until you actually see what it did and actually are there where everything went down,” he said. “Last year, I was really thinking hard about getting a storm shelter.
“I think we’d have three tornados in past 5 years within 10 miles of where we live … it’s amazing the damage. I remember Tuscaloosa after that one major one hit. The pictures on TV and in the newspaper just really don’t do it justice.”
The purchase of a storm shelter is back on the Niggemeyers’ minds.
“I was really looking after the Shorts got hit,” he said. “Sandy and I are good friends with the Shorts, and just after that happened, oh my gosh, we were really thinking about it, and now we’re really thinking about it.”
The same storm system was responsible for three more deaths, two after a tornado hit Nashville, Ark., and another drowning victim in Texas. In all, reports show more than 20 tornados formed Sunday from Texas to South Dakota.