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Tornado in Fort Davis

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SHANEA

  • Guest
Saragosa's memories: Deadly tornado still scars town
« Reply #30 on: May 23, 2007, 07:51:23 PM »
Quote
Saragosa's memories: Deadly tornado still scars town
By Ram?n Renter?a / El Paso Times
El Paso Times
Article Launched:
SARAGOSA, Texas -- Mercedes Mondragon still has trouble talking about the tornado that wiped out her rural West Texas town and killed many of her friends and neighbors 20 years ago today.

"We cannot forget. You feel the pain as if it happened yesterday," she said. "We experienced something so horrible that it is difficult to explain."

Mondragon, 67, is among the still traumatized survivors of a violent, multiple-vortex half-mile-wide tornado that erased more than 80 percent of Saragosa, an isolated town in sparsely populated ranchland in Reeves County, about 190 miles east of El Paso.

The tornado, which ripped through the town on May 22, 1987, killed 30 people -- 22 of them in a community center where parents and grandparents had gathered to celebrate a Head Start preschool graduation -- and injured 121 of the town's estimated 300 residents.

Some Saragosa residents moved away. Those remaining prefer not to talk too much about what happened. No one in the unincorporated town plans any special ceremonies marking the tornado's 20th anniversary.

Government agencies and generous donors from throughout the United States rebuilt Saragosa within a year, wiping out most evidence of the destructive tornado that struck at 8:15 p.m.

National weather forecasting officials later labeled the Saragosa tornado as the ninth deadliest in Texas since 1900. Winds estimated from 200 to 260 mph destroyed 118 houses, plus the town's old post office, a schoolhouse, the Catholic church, a corner grocery store and a community center. Estimated damages: $1.4 million.

Mondragon, a Head Start volunteer back then and now working full-time for the agency, has been reluctant to share her story for 20 years. She still cries thinking of the magnitude of the human loss, seeing so many dead and the injured caked in mud, people that she had socialized with minutes earlier at the graduation ceremony.

"It took three months before I could start grieving for the ones who died," Mondragon said. "Maybe we needed counseling and they never gave us any. Maybe that's why we've been traumatized so long."

The 12 Head Start graduates survived and eventually finished high school. Parents and grandparents shielded them from falling debris with their bodies.

Mondragon fled the community hall and took shelter in her own home. She lost a sister-in-law and two other relatives in the tornado that skipped her house but demolished her husband's dump truck.

Twenty years later, Mondragon finds comfort in a poster that her 6-year-old grandson Armando Mondragon made at Austin Elementary School in Pecos. The poster praises grandma "Chela" as a hero for resuscitating an infant after the tornado.

"The tornado left us all in shock. We could not console each other," Mercedes Mondragon said.

Every May, the town gets a collective case of the jitters when storm clouds approach. A few weeks ago, everyone huddled in the basement of the town's multi-purpose center when tornadoes and funnel clouds were spotted 35 miles away in Fort Davis. The center now houses the Head Start program.

Saragosa looks almost deserted, even with rows of pastel colored houses that volunteers from across the nation built.

Painful reminders of the tornado still exist. A weed-infested empty lot, a four-foot chunk of concrete and traces of the foundation of the community hall mark the spot where most of the townspeople died.

At the new community center and shelter, a small statute of an angel guards a wall listing the men, women and children who died. Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Shrine stands out like a beacon of hope, rebuilt in the same spot where the tornado crushed the old church.

Twenty years ago, Jose Candela stood in the debris of his flattened grocery store and defiantly proclaimed that he would rebuild. His rebuilt store is now closed, a for sale sign on the front door.

Warned at the last minute about the tornado, some residents chose to stay in the community hall.

Nancy Matta, 37, now a Head Start family services aide, hid under a table at the center with her 2-year-old son, Jourmain, now a student in college. The tornado killed her mother, Matilde Prieto.

"You try to move on," Matta said. "Most people just don't want to remember."

Reeves County Justice of the Peace Rosendo Carrasco of Balmorhea, credited with taking the only photograph of the tornado, lost so many people he knew that he still declines to talk about the experience.
SHANEA NOTE:  I tried to find this photo on the Wild West Web, but to no avail.  Perhaps because I was using Yahoo?


Lisa Mendoza, now 32, drove from Balmorhea with her family for her younger brother Joshua's Head Start graduation. She now works for Head Start.

Mendoza remembers parents grabbing children off the stage. In the commotion, her family of five tried to outrun the storm but found the highway to Pecos too congested. So, they hid in a closet in Joe Gallegos' house nearby and saw the roof?blow away and the walls collapse.

Like other survivors, Mendoza has tried to suppress the tornado. She recently returned to remnants of the Gallegos house for the first time since 1987.

Mendoza does not go to bed without watching the television weather report.

"I wish it were winter all year long," she said. "It scares me if we have bad weather."

Victor Hernandez, a 64-year-old Balmorhea resident, rushed to the demolished community center after the tornado and spent hours in Saragosa helping with rescue efforts.

"It was a horrible thing," Hernandez said. "I saw a young girl kneeling as if praying but she was dead."

Ramona Natividad, 71, emerged from her severely damaged house after the tornado and found most of Saragosa had disappeared.

"It is too sad to talk about it," Natividad said. "We start praying every time there's a storm."

In Saragosa, the past is too painful to remember and too painful to forget.

Ram?n Renter?a may be reached at rrenteria@elpasotimes.com; 546-6146.


http://www.elpasotimes.com/search/ci_5951958

Be sure to check out the pics of the post office @ http://gallery.elpasotimes.com/photoweek/saragoza/

The Pecos Enterprise also has a lot of pics @ http://www.pecos.net/news/arch87/sarpix.htm

In case you are wondering, Saragosa is just a few miles NE of Balmorhea over off of I-10 - probably 50 miles West of Fort Stockton.  http://preview.tinyurl.com/2pqbv3

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SHANEA

  • Guest
Woman loses six family members in devastating tornado
« Reply #31 on: May 23, 2007, 07:55:47 PM »
More on Saragosa...

Quote
05/20/2007
Woman loses six family members in devastating tornado
Missy Hallmark
Midland Reporter-Telegram

PECOS -- Behind a featureless, empty desk in a barren, makeshift office Norma Rodriguez sits and tells her story.
She comes into the room with a thick coat of eye shadow on, and within the next hour it slowly fades and smears, mixed with her tears and the constant wiping-away that she will do.

"I told myself I wasn't going to do this," she insists. But saying that only makes her words harder to come by. Though each person's story of loss is tragic unto each storyteller, Norma's memories of May 22, 1987 certainly must be some of the saddest to hear. They are without doubt some of the saddest to ask a person to remember.

Devastating loss was not in short supply that day.

Norma experienced enough tragedy for several families as the unrelenting twister passed through Saragosa, the small farming community 30 miles south of Pecos. It was 20 years ago this Tuesday when many lives either ended or changed forever.

Norma remembered on that morning it had been sunny in neighboring Balmorhea, but an odd fog had settled over Saragosa. That night as children donned their caps and gowns and waited for the Head Start graduation ceremony to begin at the town hall, the local priest ran in and told everyone a tornado was headed straight for them.

"I panicked," Norma said. "Everyone got their kids and moved around and by the time I knew it I had decided to hide under a table."

When the tornado had moved on and the sky had cleared that Friday evening -- just moments after Norma had moved under the table -- what she found was beyond her worst imagining. Dead were her big sister Olivia, who had filled a mother role for her since the death of their mom 17 years before, and Norma's little sister, Irma, often mistaken as her twin when the two were in school. Norma's aunts, Nora Brijalba and Amelia Carillo, who "did everything together," were also killed after coming together to the Head Start graduation. So was her cousin Luis Carillo. And her 15-month-old nephew Lionel. Irma had lied on top of Lionel to protect him. When she was struck by flying debris, Lionel was stuck underneath her. A short time later, the boy suffocated.

Norma lost six family members in the span of several seconds. Miraculously, none of her own four children would die that night.

Twenty years has done nothing to lessen the hurt or dull the memories and it is painful to listen to her story. Today she works as a vocational trainer at the Mental Health-Mental Retardation office in Pecos, but the memories of her loss are never more than a few shifting thoughts away. The Saragosa tornado "devastated" her life, she says. She is able to utter just the one word when she is asked to describe what the tornado did to her life.

Norma's three daughters, Bianca, then 8; Tammy, who was 6, and Amanda, 4, show little lasting scars from the storm. But her son, Jacob, 11 when the tornado came, still becomes frightened -- at 31 years of age -- when the skies grow dark. For months after the devastation, Norma said, every time the sky would grow threatening, she would put Jacob in the car and drive to Fort Davis, into the mountains where tornadoes seldom came.

Talking about her son's fear is difficult, but remembering her sisters, aunts, cousin and nephew causes Norma the greatest pain of all.

"Olivia worked at the grocery store my father had owned," Norma recalled. "She was a good 'mom.' After our mother died, she would come every morning to our house when we were little. Irma and I were in school together and everyone thought we were twins. She was very smart. We were very close. Very close."

She holds Nora in a special place, too, because of her aunt's selflessness.

"Aunt Nora worked with the community council in Saragosa, and the community council ran the Head Start program there," Norma said. "She stepped down from her position so that I could have a job there. She gave me her job."

Norma says before her cousin Lucas, a rodeo cowboy who rode and roped the West Texas circuit, was killed, he was "running around the church breaking out glass windows to equalize the pressure in the room." And of her tiny nephew Lionel, she remembers with much pain that her sister "must have choked him because she never let loose of him." She remembers seeing Irma lying face down, a board with nails in it embedded in her head. Lionel was underneath her, already dead.

Norma considers herself a spiritual person, and attributes the disaster to Mother Nature. She is certain the tornado is not the work of an angry God.

"I have heard a lot of things, like how it came because the people of Saragosa didn't like each other," she said. "But I think it was just Mother Nature.''

Norma shielded her children that night, too, and distinctly remembers the wind sucking off her shoes and literally blowing the rings off her fingers. Twenty years later, she still has the dresses worn by her daughters and her nieces that night, all of whom survived. Two of the dresses are white and lacy, the kind often worn by little girls for special occasions. But on closer look, the white dresses are not a bright white at all. They are covered with a fine layer of brown.

"It's dirt," Norma said. "I have washed them over and over and over for 20 years, and the dirt won't come out."

Through the tragedy she endured and the losses she still feels, Norma says the miraculous survival of her four children is all she has left that keeps her going.

She pats the tears away from her cheek once more, memories still flooding her and the horror of the storm still prevalent, like it was yesterday.

"It was a wind like no other wind," she said.

©MyWestTexas.com 2007


http://www.mywesttexas.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=18365114&BRD=2288&PAG=461&dept_id=475626&rfi=6

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SHANEA

  • Guest
Picture is worth 1000 words...
« Reply #32 on: May 30, 2007, 12:05:48 AM »
I was hoping some one would have more luck than I digging up that pic that is referred to in the article...

Another article made the papers regarding this tragedy...
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/4833416.html

Quote
May 24, 2007, 2:47PM
Deadly tornado still haunts West Texas town
By RAMON RENTERIA El Paso Times
© 2007 The Associated Press
ARAGOSA, Texas — Mercedes Mondragon still has trouble talking about the tornado that wiped out her rural West Texas town and killed many of her friends and neighbors 20 years ago.

"We cannot forget. You feel the pain as if it happened yesterday," she said. "We experienced something so horrible that it is difficult to explain."

Mondragon, 67, is among the still traumatized survivors of a violent, multiple-vortex half-mile-wide tornado that erased more than 80 percent of Saragosa, an isolated town in sparsely populated ranchland in Reeves County, about 190 miles east of El Paso.

The tornado, which ripped through the town on May 22, 1987, killed 30 people — 22 of them in a community center where parents and grandparents had gathered to celebrate a Head Start preschool graduation. It injured 121 of the town's estimated 300 residents.

Some Saragosa residents moved away. Those remaining prefer not to talk too much about what happened. No one in the unincorporated town plans any special ceremonies marking the tornado's 20th anniversary.

Government agencies and generous donors from throughout the United States rebuilt Saragosa within a year, wiping out most evidence of the destructive tornado that struck at 8:15 p.m.

National weather forecasting officials later labeled the Saragosa tornado as the ninth deadliest in Texas since 1900. Winds estimated from 200 to 260 mph destroyed 118 houses, plus the town's old post office, a schoolhouse, the Catholic church, a corner grocery store and a community center. Estimated damages: $1.4 million.

Mondragon, a Head Start volunteer back then and now working full-time for the agency, has been reluctant to share her story for 20 years. She still cries thinking of the magnitude of the human loss, seeing so many dead and the injured caked in mud, people that she had socialized with minutes earlier at the graduation ceremony.

"It took three months before I could start grieving for the ones who died," Mondragon said. "Maybe we needed counseling and they never gave us any. Maybe that's why we've been traumatized so long."

The 12 Head Start graduates survived and eventually finished high school. Parents and grandparents shielded them from falling debris with their bodies.

Mondragon fled the community hall and took shelter in her own home. She lost a sister-in-law and two other relatives in the tornado that skipped her house but demolished her husband's dump truck.

Twenty years later, Mondragon finds comfort in a poster that her 6-year-old grandson Armando Mondragon made at Austin Elementary School in Pecos. The poster praises grandma "Chela" as a hero for resuscitating an infant after the tornado.

"The tornado left us all in shock. We could not console each other," Mercedes Mondragon said.

Every May, the town gets a collective case of the jitters when storm clouds approach. A few weeks ago, everyone huddled in the basement of the town's multipurpose center when tornadoes and funnel clouds were spotted 35 miles away in Fort Davis. The center now houses the Head Start program.

Saragosa looks almost deserted, even with rows of pastel colored houses that volunteers from across the nation built.

Painful reminders of the tornado still exist. A weed-infested empty lot, a four-foot chunk of concrete and traces of the foundation of the community hall mark the spot where most of the townspeople died.

At the new community center and shelter, a small statue of an angel guards a wall listing the men, women and children who died. Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Shrine stands out like a beacon of hope, rebuilt in the same spot where the tornado crushed the old church.

Twenty years ago, Jose Candela stood in the debris of his flattened grocery store and defiantly proclaimed that he would rebuild. His rebuilt store is now closed, a "for sale" sign on the front door.

Warned at the last minute about the tornado, some residents chose to stay in the community hall.

Nancy Matta, 37, now a Head Start family services aide, hid under a table at the center with her 2-year-old son, Jourmain, now a student in college. The tornado killed her mother, Matilde Prieto.

"You try to move on," Matta said. "Most people just don't want to remember."

Reeves County Justice of the Peace Rosendo Carrasco of Balmorhea, credited with taking the only photograph of the tornado, lost so many people he knew that he still declines to talk about the experience.

Lisa Mendoza, now 32, drove from Balmorhea with her family for her younger brother Joshua's Head Start graduation. She now works for Head Start.

Mendoza remembers parents grabbing children off the stage. In the commotion, her family of five tried to outrun the storm but found the highway to Pecos too congested. So, they hid in a closet in Joe Gallegos' house nearby and saw the roof blow away and the walls collapse.

Like other survivors, Mendoza has tried to suppress the tornado. She recently returned to remnants of the Gallegos house for the first time since 1987.

Mendoza does not go to bed without watching the television weather report.

"I wish it were winter all year long," she said. "It scares me if we have bad weather."

Victor Hernandez, a 64-year-old Balmorhea resident, rushed to the demolished community center after the tornado and spent hours in Saragosa helping with rescue efforts.

"It was a horrible thing," Hernandez said. "I saw a young girl kneeling as if praying but she was dead."

Ramona Natividad, 71, emerged from her severely damaged house after the tornado and found most of Saragosa had disappeared.

"It is too sad to talk about it," Natividad said. "We start praying every time there's a storm."

In Saragosa, the past is too painful to remember and too painful to forget.

 


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