Tornado Leaves Chamber COO Without Home or Office

Jeff Kitner

From Oct. 21 through Dec. 20, the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce had 24 events or meetings scheduled, and not one of them fell through, even though chief operating officer Jeff Kitner didn’t have a computer, a home, or an office the first few days.

Kitner said his family went from either sleeping or watching the Dallas Cowboys game that night to huddling in an interior bathroom minutes later.

“We woke our daughter up and grabbed our dog, who is very stubborn, into the bathroom on his leash,” he said.

Even as the twister flew over their neighborhood, Kitner wasn’t quite sure anything was happening.

“We heard some noises, but it didn’t seem that bad,” he said.

“Once it all had passed and we got word that the tornado had moved elsewhere, I went out of the bathroom, and I went to our living room first, which has a skylight, and the skylight had busted, and I saw insulation and leaves and debris inside the house,” he said. “And I walked around the front of the house, and it looked OK, so I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad.’”

“Now, there’s a tree in our master bathroom.” -Jeff Kitner

He soon learned he was wrong.

“The roof had fallen into our master bathroom,” he said. “Now there’s a tree in our master bathroom. . . There was a transformer in our backyard.”

Kitner’s family spread out among three locations while seeking an apartment. It could be six months before they can move back home.

But Kitner’s experience with the tornado wasn’t relegated to just his home. The NDCC office located on the southwest side of Preston and Royal took a hefty punch from the EF-3 tornado.

“It’s only about a year and a half old,” he said. “The windows have all been blown off; the roof ’s been blown off. It’s now been boarded up. And there’s a lot of interior damage.

“But the structure seems to have held up pretty well,” he said. “But it’s going to take a few months at least to get it back to where it was.”

In the meantime, chamber staff is working remotely, and Kitner managed with help from the community to reschedule all those events.

“We’ve had a lot of our board members and know many partners who have offered up space for us to relocate our events and to work at,” he said.

Even with all of the destruction – the NDCC said that 105 commercial buildings were destroyed, and 354 were damaged – Kitner said he’s thankful it didn’t result in more injuries or loss of life.

‘I mean, this happened probably the ideal time because everybody I talked to was doing what I was doing – watching the Cowboys game,” he said. “They heard about the tornado warning, or they heard the siren, but because they were focused on the TV, they got the warning immediately and went into an interior bathroom or an interior closet.

“And, you know, that probably saved a lot of people from being injured.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected]

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