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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide for Reeves County, Trans-Pecos, Big Bend of West Texas

Pecos Enterprise

April 26, 1974

Pre-dawn tornado injures 10

By Lynn Webb
Staff Writer

Unheralded and unwelcome, a tornado swept through Valley View Trailor Park in southwest Pecos shortly after 2 a.m. today, injuring 10 residents and destroying four of the mobile homes in the park.

Of those 10, only four received injuries that were severe enough to require confinement in the local hospital.

Most seriously injured was 2-year-old Brian Smith, son of Mr. and Mrs. Lynn Smith. All three were kept in the hospital.

The infant was found by rescue workers some 50 yards from where the family dwelling came to rest after overturning and disintegrating in the churning winds.

Young Smith received a severe head wound in which he was partially scalped.

When workers could not find the baby anywhere among the debris of family possessions, ambulance attendants finally found him lying in the mud away from the house.

He apparently had crawled away, as emergency personnel reported following an intermittent trail of blood to the spot where the boy was found.

One rescue worker said he would not have given the boy a chance of living until an ambulance could get him the mile or so to the hospital, but hospital spokesmen said at mid-morning today he was in satisfactory condition after undergoing emergency treatment.

Hospital administrator Gerald Taylor said two physicians were on hand when the ambulance brought the youth to the hospital and they immediately took him into surgery where his scalp was sutured back together.

Others injured in the storm included the boy's parents; the father with a leg injury and his mother, Sandy Smith, also with injuries to a leg after being trapped in the debris.

The only other victim requiring hospitalizations was Janice Merworth who was complaining of chest and back pains.

The storm completely shredded two of the large mobile homes, while overturning another and lodging it against the side of a fourth trailer.

The three trailers overturned and tossed about by the wind were destroyed. Others received light to moderate damage, according to officials on the scene today.

The Merworth and Smith trailers were the only two occupied at the time of the storm. The third overturned house belonged to the Eddie Stephens family which had moved to Big Spring and was in the process of removing their trailer from the park.

Trailer park manager A.F. Wells said Stephens was trying to sell the trailer and had already taken the blocks from under it when the storm struck.

The storm moved into Pecos at about 2:20 a.m., coming from the southwest where it had already ripped the top out of one trailer in the Lindsay Addition south of town.

Police patrolman Butler Smith was the first to sight the storm. He was patrolling SH17 at the time and saw a large quantity of tin flying around in the air.

Smith radioed police headquarters of his sighting and told the dispatcher he was going into the area to see if there was any damage to homes.

Dispatcher Wilma Turner received the call at about 2:20 a.m. and immediately began notifying emergency crews and calling in off-duty officers to aid in the rescue operations.

The first ambulance bearing injured persons reached the hospital at 2:47 a.m. and all victims of the storm had been removed to medical facilities by 3:10 a.m., according to police ledgers.

Several other trailers and small buildings in the area received damage in the storm. Valley View park manager A.F. Wells had a metal storage building damaged as did another occupant, Lloyd Hatch.

A number of other trailers were reportedly lifted off the ground and the blocks blown from under them, but they did not receive storm damage.

Officials on the scene said the storm apparently lifted off the ground after passing through the park, but managed to splinter and destroy seven poles belonging to Continental Telephone Company.

Civil Defense director S.B. Hunt said his office at city hall was open and in operation within 10 minutes of the first report of the tornado striking the city and remained open until about 4 a.m.

Radio station KIUN began broadcasting news of the storm at 2:30 a.m. and advisories of continued tornado warnings were given until about 4:05 a.m.

Several residents in the area of the mobile home park reported minor incidents of wind damage as metal storage buildings were blown away, horse trailers were blown down the street and a number of trees were uprooted.

Debris from the trailer park was scattered across SH17 and in the 1900 block of Alamo Street, almost a mile away.

Every available officer of the police department, sheriffs office, highway patrol and Border Patrol reported to the scene to stand guard over the damaged area to prevent looting and cordon the area to keep the curious out of the way of clean-up operations.

Officers declared the situation in the area "stable" at 4:05 a.m. and closed the civil defense office until 7 a.m. today.

According to U.S. Weather Bureau officials in Midland, the storm which hit Pecos was a part of a large mass of turbulent weather centered in the Orla and Malaga, N.M. areas shortly after midnight.

Toyah resident Buddy Bryan said he had called the weather service in Wink during the night with a report of a sighted tornado cell near Toyah and the Midland bureau confirmed that a "hook echo" similar to a tornado form appeared on their radar screens at the time Bryan reported his sighting.

As clean-up operations began around dawn today, Hunt praised the fire department, ambulance attendants and all concerned with the disaster operation.

Hunt said they did a tremendous job and that "nothing could have operated any better."

Outside the area of the tornado, Louis Wood, 1609 Johnson St., reported an apricot tree had been uprooted and his television antenna blown down. C.W. Hannah, 1807 S. Eddy St., reported some damge by the wind and residents of Chaparral Village just east of the Pecos River reported fences flown down and air conditioners blown off roofs of trailers in that area.

According to the National Weather Advisory service, the storm passed out of the area, moving northeast at speeds of about 25 miles an hour.

Earlier reports of high wind and a possible tornado in Wink were said to be in error by a member of the flight service staff at the Wink Airport.

The unidentified spokesman said he had slept through the night with his windows up by this bed and had not heard anything happening in that West Texas city.

Trailer park residents in awe at destruction

By Lynn Webb
Staff Writer

Feelings of being lucky and awed at the havoc created by passing of the tornado and concern for the real victims of damage inflicted on their neighbors ran rampant through the minds of the residents of Valley View Trailer Park early today.

As the break of day offered a calm and peaceful few hours to clean up strewn debris of what had been the dwelling places of two families,workers began to sift around looking for items of value that needed to be reclaimed from the mess.

A.F. Wells, manager of the trailer park, said, "I am about one of the luckiest people alive," as he noticed how close the twisting storm had come to hitting his mobile home at the north eand of the park.

Wells had a metal storage shed which received some damage in the wind, but his trailer escaped the churning havoc without physical damage.

"All I could think about was that little boy 2-year-old Brian Smtih, who was most seriously injured of the four victims hospitalized and whether he was alive or not," said Mrs. Glenda Boyd, who lives only four or five spaces away from where the tornado passed.

Mrs. Boyd said the tornado "felt like two big hands shaking our house from each side. The storm only blew the blocks out from under us," She said as she helped clean up the debris of the Hubert Merworth trailer.

Mrs. Boyd was among the neighbors weo began search for the Smith boy when it was discovered he was missing from this parents' trailer.

Mrs. Richard Fowler, whose eight by 30-foot trailer was parked next to the Merworth trailer said, "I woke up when the wind broke a window above my bed and was trying to close my windows when I looked for the trailer next door and saw it was gone.

The Fowler trailer occupies Space 2 in the park and received only moderate damage while the next two north of her were demolished in the storm.

M.P. Windham, whose trailer is eight spaces away from the damage area, said, "I was awake and heard the wind. I told my wife to lay down on the floor before the storm hit."

Windham continued, "It sounded like a big bomb went off when it hit." The blocks were blown out from under Windham's trailer and he said he felt the mobile home lift off the ground three times while the storm was passing through the area.

"This used to be a hell of a nice house yesterday," said Hubert Merworth, whose home was destroyed. His wife was one of the four persons admitted to Memorial Hospital with injuries.

Merworth said, "I had just gotten out of bed and was on my way out of the bedroom when it hit. I didn't even get out of the bedroom door," Merworth said.

His home overturned and disintegrated in the storm, ruining his late model car. Merworth's wife Jancie received possible back and chest injuries in the wild ride in the careening home and the resulting jar as it came to rest.

"I just thought it was the wind blowing," said Gary Schneider as he observed the damage in his brother's house. Schneider said he and his sister-in-law and her child were in the trailer when a next-door trailer overturned and hit theirs.

Mrs. Schneider and her child left the area and spent the rest of the night with Rev. L.A. Pattillo. Gary remained on the scene waiting for his brother who was at work on a mud logging crew to receive word of the storm and return to the scene.

Another resident of the park, Lloyd Hatch, said, "I told my wife it was just a big wind and there was nothing to worry about," as the storm passed over the area.

Hatch said he did not know what was happening until his lights went out and he came outside to investigate after the storm had passed.

Sgt. H.W. Johnson of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said, "I heard it coming. It sounded like a great big freight train running through the area."

Johnson, who lives at 2205 Wyoming St., had a metal storage building sitting on the patio behind his house before the storm passed through the area.

When the wind died down, Johnson found that his building had disappeared. Pieces of it were found atop a fence and vehicle several blocks down the street.

Through it all, none of the residents in the park seemed to panic, but hastily went to work reclaiming possessions of friends.

Disaster planning pays off for victims

Previous planning for disasters such as a tornado paid off for victimds of an early-morning storm which passed through the southwest portion of Pecos today.

The planning had been done by the members of Memorial hospital as they took part in a county wide disaster planning program and a mock exercise in December.

According to superintendent of nurses Mary Rutledge, the previous planning and simulated exercises paid off handsomely as the local medical facility was prepared for the victims of the tornado even before ambulances could get them from Valley View trailer park to the hospital, about a mile journey.

Rutledge said everyone was at the hospital and ready to go into action when the first ambulance arrived at 2:47 a.m., less than 20 minutes from the time the storm hit four of the 18 mobile homes located in the park.

Rutledge said she went to the hospital immediately after finding out the storm was in the area and began calling off-duty nurses and doctors.

Dr. Jen M. Chuong was at the hospital in less than five minutes, and another physician was there by the time ambulances began arriving.

Inside the hospital, crews from the laboratory were on hand, and one of the operating rooms was also ready for the first patients to arrive.

The surgery crew was inside the facility and lost no time when 2-year-old Brian Smith was brought in with severe scalp wounds.

They immediately took him into the operating room and began treatment to suture his scalp back in place.

Rutledge said they were set up to handle 20-30 casulaties from the storm. She said they had extra blankets ready for ambulance crews to take back into the scene of devastation if they had been needed.

According to Rutledge, the previous planning exercises enabled them to treat those injured and eliminated the need to transfer any of the injured to other area hospitals.

Arrangements for blood from other hospitals such as Kermit or Odessa had also been handled, but there was no need for the extra supply, said Rutledge.

Speaking of the several afternoon-long sessions of planning by Department of Pugblic Safety training officer Charles Mitchell of Austin during December were "very beneficial to us in this instance," said Rutledge.

She said the normal staff of four nurses was on duty when she began calling in extra personnel and within the five minute span the entire crew was ready to go to work when needed.

Wide-ranging turbulence spawns tornado

By the Associated Press

A predawn tornado that injured four persons and wrecked four mobile homes in Pecos today was part of menacing thunderstorms that ranged from the Big Bend country in far West Texas to the Panhandle.

Hot, muggy air was reported in the tornado's wake, and the overnight low temperature sank to only 64. Thursday's high of 95 warned of possible turbulent weather to come.

Offical rain gauges measured .05 inch during the light shower that fell around 10 p.m. and during the tornado's sweep around 2:15 a.m.

Wind velocity at Municipal Airport, just south of the tornado's path, was measured at 65 m.p.h.

Showers mixed with the thunderstorms spread toward the east into the northern part of the state.

Violent weather kept parts of the Texas Panhandle under a severe weather warning much of the night and gusty showers lingered this morning east of a line linking Dumas, Wheeler and Silverton.

Another area of violent weather covered far West Texas from the vicinty of Alpine to near Midland.

Light rain or showers dotted a wide area from around San Angelo, Abilene and Brownwood to Lubbock and Vernon, and spread by early mnorning over a broad stretch of Central and South Texas from near Uvalde to east of Temple.

Still more turbulent weather was predicted at scattered points in most sections of the state tonight and Saturday. Forecasters looked for rising southeast winds over a broad area as a new Pacific cool front, expected to reach West Texas by early Saturday, made its approach.

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Pecos Enterprise
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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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