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Tyler and Marris Harris, with their children Kylei and T.J
Tyler and Marris Harris, with their children Kylei and T.J., and Gauge, a German Shepherd mix, reminisce about watching last year's tornado as they park in the same spot at Reiter's Marina where they rode out the storm June 20.

Tyler Harris and his family were heading home after a camping trip last Father’s Day, sopping wet from unhooking their camper, when the tornado struck.

Marris Harris, his wife, was driving toward MetraPark and insisted on pulling over when the hail hit. Tyler wanted to keep driving.

“This is one of the few times I’m glad she didn’t do what I said to do,” he said.

After Marris parked on the sidewalk, hugging the side of Reiter’s Marina, a piece of plywood broke out the rear window. A chunk of roof sheared down the driver’s door, ripping off the Tahoe’s mirror.

The couple blanketed their 13-year-old and 8-year-old in the back seat, shielding them against flying glass. Two German shepherds obeyed orders to lie down, cowering in the back.

The Harris family had a ground zero view of nature’s horror flick.

A truck pulling a trailer was toppled by Fas-Break Windshield Repair & Replacement as the twister sucked at the building.

“It was just like a sardine can opening, that twister peeling back the roof,” she said.

Every time the tornado touched down, more roof debris from MetraPark flew around, including airborne lawn chairs. Fickle winds blew a utility trailer from Reiter’s Marina across six lanes of traffic and back again.

Debris from Reiter’s Kawasaki landed on top of a car that came into Harris’ Main Street business, Auto Body Specialists Carstar, for repairs the next day.

“It was a mess. A dead bird was impregnated into the headliner by the window visors inside,” he said. “It had to have gotten blown in there.”

The former EMT and firefighter was trained to respond to emergencies, but this was his first tornado.

“We saw some pretty incredible things,” Harris said. “Being in the middle of it, it makes you more respectful of what they go through in tornado alley.”

For Marris, her worst nightmare didn’t materialize.

“I could only think, ‘Please don’t decapitate me in front of my children,’ ” she said. “And if we would have kept driving, we would have gotten smucked by a boat and trailer that got hurled.”

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Contact Jan Falstad at

jfalstad@billingsgazette.com

or 406-657-1306.

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