First responder shares story of Southside storm


By Sarrah Peters, News Editor

On Monday, March 19, Southside Officer Bryan Bell was sitting in his patrol car with his partner Colton Harden underneath the Southside Baptist awning to avoid the falling hail when he saw the approaching tornado.

“I said there it is,” said Bell. “I think Colton said it was the first tornado he’d seen.”

As the first officer to spot the storm, Bell called into the station to report the tornado. He could tell the tornado had touched down because the power line’s transformers were blowing, creating bright blue flashes.

“Colton and I went stright to the scene,” said Bell. “Debris was still falling when we got there.”

The first thing they encountered was a resident worried that a car had been hit by the storm. Bell and Harden first found a bumper, and a little bit further found a car with a tree laying across it. Bell had the driver return to the vehicle for safety because the power lines were sparking.

Shortly after Southside Police Chief Chris Jones, who had heard Bell’s radio call, arrived with a truck. The officers helped pull a vehicle out of a ditch.

After the storm passed through, Bell and other first responders redirected the traffic that was stuck on Highway 77 due to downed trees. then the first responders began knocking on doors to check on the safety of  residents with damaged houses.

“We couldn’t get vehicles through, so we went through the debris, the trees  and had to find our way around the downed power lines because we didn’t know which one were hot,” said Bell. “And just started knocking on doors.”

Bell said that the officers visited a lot of houses. Bell left the next morning at about 6 a.m. when the night shift ended and returned the next day.

“Thankfully, nobody was really injured,” said Bell.

“I admit when I first pulled up and a big limb scooted across the road, and you could hear debris hitting the car, I will admit that I was thinking that I might have gotten there too fast,” said Bell. “And it calmed down within seconds.”

Bell and his partner were the first first responders on scene, but Bell insists he was just doing his job.

“I’m not a hero,” said Bell. “I may have been the first one there, but there were a lot of people that showed up to do what we do. I just happened to be the one that ran in before it was over.”

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