'Impossible You Are Alive': One Texas Man's Quick Thinking Helped Save Dozens During a Tornado

No one was killed after Hugo Parra directed them to a safe spot — as he tells PEOPLE he was "meant to be there"

<p>Courtesy of the Parra Family</p> Anacristina Parra, left, with husband Hugo Parra. On the right is their Ford Taurus after a Memorial Day weekend tornado hit in Texas.

Courtesy of the Parra Family

Anacristina Parra, left, with husband Hugo Parra. On the right is their Ford Taurus after a Memorial Day weekend tornado hit in Texas.

Hugo Parra doesn’t know why he didn’t stop his car at the first gas station — or the second — or the third that he and his family passed on their drive on May 26 after getting word that they were in the path of a powerful tornado.

But over Memorial Day weekend, as he finally pulled into a Valley View, Texas, travel station off busy I-35, he somehow knew that was where he needed to be.

“Why this place?” Parra, a father of six, tells PEOPLE. “The only answer that I have is God sent me ... to put everybody safely in the restrooms. I was meant to be there."

Parra, 50, says he and his wife, two sons, pregnant daughter and son-in-law were traveling from his home in Farmers Branch, Texas, to Oklahoma City to celebrate a quinceañera when he got a call from his mother warning them of a looming tornado.

He and his son checked the radar and saw it was coming close, he says.

By the time they reached the truck stop near tiny Valley View, about an hour’s drive north of Dallas, the tornado was bearing down — part of a broader pattern of severe weather that killed more than 20 others over the holiday.

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<p>AP Photo/Julio Cortez</p> Hugo Parra looking at his car after the tornado

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Hugo Parra looking at his car after the tornado

Locally, the Cooke County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that seven people were killed near there, including four children and three adults.

But, miraculously, no one was killed when the tornado destroyed the Valley View truck stop, with many crediting Parra’s quick thinking. It’s estimated that upwards of 60 people were in the building, which also houses a restaurant. 

Parra says he saw everyone sitting inside the restaurant and an employee telling them all just to get away from the glass windows. But Parra felt that would not be enough to save them, he says, and he quickly started yelling for everyone to take cover in the restrooms and a nearby corridor.

“What we heard was everyone get to the bathroom and that person’s voice gave everyone a specific spot to be and that person saved maybe 50-60 lives,” one man at the travel station told a local TV reporter

The reporter said he spoke to another man named Ricky who also heard the voice say, “Get in the bathroom!”

And how did Parra, who has lived in Texas for 31 years but never experienced a tornado, know what to do?

“I watch TV,” he says. “They say to find a small place to stay down because if you are in an open space, the tornado makes the circulation that takes everything.”

And everything is what Parra says he and the others saw when the tornado ripped around them in the corridor. It went black as the winds sheared off the walls of the travel stop, leaving very little of the building.

<p>Courtesy of the Parra Family</p> Hugo Parra with his grandchildren

Courtesy of the Parra Family

Hugo Parra with his grandchildren

Parra’s 17-year-old son, Rafael, held onto him in the restroom, afraid they would all blow away.

“We saw the glass flying away, the roof, then it was dark, dark, dark. You don’t see anything except the noise, like the 18-wheelers outside flying around,” Parra says. “My son is hugging me hard because he was thinking the air was going to take me. The air wants to take everybody. But it doesn’t. It was a very long five or 10 minutes.”

Parra says his wife asked him during the ordeal if he was afraid. No, he said. He couldn’t be.

“Everyone was crying, yelling and I say, ‘Calm down, calm down. Everything is going to be okay. Just relax,' " he recounts. “But you know, how are they going to relax when they see that big thing in their face?”

Once everyone was able to leave, they saw the swath of destruction around them — vehicles battered and mangled, gas station pumps ripped away and barely a building left.

“A fireman came up to me and asked if I was inside, and I said yes. And he shook his head and almost cried,’’ Parra says. “He said, ‘It’s impossible you all are alive. It was very, very bad.’ We lost everything, but we survived.”

<p>Courtesy of the Parra Family</p> Hugo Parra distributing items to residents of his hometown in Durango, Mexico

Courtesy of the Parra Family

Hugo Parra distributing items to residents of his hometown in Durango, Mexico

Parra’s daughter Cristal, who started a GoFundMe account to help him replace his car, says she wasn’t surprised by her dad’s heroic actions.

“He’s always the type of person to go where help is needed,” Cristal tells PEOPLE. “He collects items for school and things and takes them back to his hometown in Durango, Mexico.”

“I'm very, very proud of him,” Cristal, who had to pick up her family after their car was destroyed, says. “I wanted to cry just because looking at it, I'm like, there's no way that they survived. I'm just glad that I was able to pick them up and take them home instead of picking up bodies.”

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