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PECOS, MAY 23, 1987 - Twenty-eight men, women and children were killed
in a tornado that tore through the small farming community of Saragosa
The names of the dead are being withheld pending positive identification
or family notification, Pecos Funeral Home director Bill Calloway said
Reeves County sheriff Raul Florez said 121 people were transported to
area hospitals from the time the tornado touched down at 8:15 p.m. into
the early morning hours today.
He estimated that more than 70 percent of the town was destroyed.
The tornado knocked down adobe and brick buildings, demolished wooden
ones and trailer homes, and sent cars crashing into each other. Farm
land was ripped open, livestock injured, and creeks swelled with the
rain that continued this morning.
Law enforcement agencies, emergency personnel, Red Cross, and search and
rescue crews were on hand at Saragosa this morning as officials,
volunteers and family members searched through the rubble.
"We're looking for something we hope we don't find," said 17-year-old
David Tunson of the Pecos Civil Air Patrol.
He and six others in his unit were searching for evidence of humans and
fortunately found only possessions that they turned over to sheriff's
Most of the bodies and injured people were transported from the scene
This morning, literally hundreds of people were crowding the area.
In addition to family members, volunteers and media representatives from
the area were law enforcement and emergency officials from Pecos,
Monahans, Fort Stockton, Mentone, Van Horn, Carlsbad, Odessa and Midland.
They represented city and county law enforcement, state departments of
highways and public safety, and the federal Department of Energy. Red
Cross set up posts both in Saragosa and Pecos.
Official searchers were in bulldozers and hardhats. Others in plain
clothes waded ankle-deep in mud and knee-deep in rubble.
"It's just unreal," one official radioed to his home station from the
scene. "Most of the town of Saragosa is wiped out."
MAY 23, 1987 - Reeves County Hospital had a full house last night as the
injured were brought in from Saragosa.
Some were treated there, others were transferred to area hospitals.
The emergency situation continued today as area hospitals continue to
care for the large number of people injured in the devastating tornado
that struck the community just after 8 p.m. Friday.
Medical records director Lily Serrano at Reeves County Hospital said
today that 89 persons had been treated at the local hospital and that
seven were admitted and are in stable condition.
Four persons were also dead on arrival at Reeves County Hospital, she
Two patients were treated and released at Odessa's Medical Center
Hospital and nine remain at that hospital, Serrano said.
Eight people were referred to Pecos County Memorial Hospital in Fort
Stockton, according to a PCMH hospital spokesman that was contacted
Corina Brijalba remains in serious condition and is suffering from
internal injuries, the hospital reports.
Three patients at the hospital are reported in stable condition and
include Manuela Casillas, Laticia Martinez and Richard Avalos,
Avalos'mother, Lorina, was treated and remains with her young son.
PCMH also reports that Melton Rodrigues was treated and released and one
child whom the hospital had no identification on was taken to Medical
Center Hospital. One person was reported as dead on arrival at that
Brewster memorial County Hospital in Alpine admitted six patients and
they remain in stable condition, according to BMCH nurse Nola Damon.
According to Donna Halcomb, director of nurses at Monahan's Ward
Memorial Hospital, five inured persons were sent from the disaster in
Four of these were treated and released. Only one person was admitted,
but the name was not available late this morning, as a severe storm was
expected in that vicinity and all personnel were preparing for this
Public relations personnel at Odessa's Medical Center Hospital could not
be reached for comment on persons treated at the hospital.
Michelle Fail, with the centex chapter of the American Red Cross in
Austin, said the number is 800-453-9000 for donations only.
People wishing information about the victims should call 512-928-4271,
One Red Cross shelter set up Friday night in Saragosa provided about 25
people with a place to stay, according to Ms. Fail.
"We've got people coming in from Dallas, Wichita Falls and Houston, the
Red Cross," she said.
Reeves County Sheriff's deputies and Pecos police officers transported
food and bedding items from a collection point at the sheriff's office
Clothing was collected at the old gym at Pecos High School and taken to
the Balmorhea school gym where the Red Cross will distribute the items
to refugees of the storm.
Odessa police arrived between 3 and 3:30 a.m. today with blood plasma
and other medical supplies.
Civicl Air Patrol cadets helped with crowd control at Reeves County
Hospital, where approximately 85 persons were treated and from where 35
were transfered to other area hospitals.
The RCH Ladies Auxiliary and the Candy Stripers helped calm survivors of
the disaster as they arrived at the hospital.
At 9:30 a.m. today, the Department of Public Safety confirmed 28 dead,
including at least one who died at an Odessa hospital.
Pecos Police Chief Ed Krevit said half his force was sent to help in
Emergency units personnel from all the surrounding towns helped
transport the injured, a DPS spokesperson said today.
Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD sent three buses. Additional buses were
contributed by Pennzoil, Seventh Day Adventist, and West Park Baptist
Lareen Chernow, public information officer for the State Division
Emergency Management, said members of that office and of the governor's
office left Austin at 8 a.m. today for Saragosa.
"They will be talking with local officials and viewing the damage," she
said. "Based on their discussions, they will determine what aid is
Bulletins issued by the National Weather Service office in Midland at
7:37 p.m. Friday warned of severe thunderstorms and possible flash
floods. The warnings covered southern Reeves County until 9:45 p.m. The
tornado struck around 8 p.m.
On Saturday, Reeves County Sheriff Raul Florez said he didn't think any
warnings had been issued. "It was a surprise to these people here."
It was not immediately known if the town had a siren or any method for
alerting its residents.
At 7:35 p.m., NWS radar indicated a severe thunderstorm located 15 miles
southwest of Pecos, moving slowly to the northeast.
A tornado warning was issued a 7:45 p.m., effective until 9 p.m., for
south central Reeves County. NWS radar at Midland Regional Airport
indicated possible tornado activity in a severe thunderstorm, located 10
miles southwest of Pecos.
The advisory warned people in the path of the tornado to move to a
A weather bulletin issued by the Midland weather service office at 8:20
p.m. said a tornado had been reported at 8:16 p.m. about four miles west
of Balmorhea along Interstate 10. Movement was to the east at about 30
mph, the statement said.
A severe weather statement issued at 8:58 p.m. said a funnel cloud was
reported about 28 miles west of Fort Stockton. The statement also said a
tornado moved through Saragosa and fatalities and substantial damage
Midland weather forecasters could not be reached Saturday.
Calls to two public lines at the NWS office there were answered with
recordings. The NWS office in Fort Worth declined to give out other
administrative numbers for the Midland office.
PECOS, May 23, 1987 - Whitey Harrington was looking forward to a
Memorial Day Weekend camping trip as he drove down Highway 17 Friday
But that was before he reached Saragosa. Instead of pulling into
Balmorhea State Park, his RV would soon become a ferry to Pecos for
survivors of one of the worst weather disasters in Texas history.
"We tried to get them out of the rain, to keep them warm," said Allen
Cason, whose travel trailer became a temporary shelter.
"When we had a load, (Harrington), drove them to Pecos. Now he's back
for more," Cason said.
Both men were taking their families camping when they came on the
disaster scene. They quickly forgot camping plans and became Good
Perhaps a hundred vehicles jammed the highway through Saragosa as
travelers and emergency volunteers joined to seek the living and the
Boy Scout Troop 98 of Odessa was among the travelers. On their way to a
camp out at Fort Davis, they quickly became a search and rescue team as
daylight faded. After darkness fell, the nine scouts and two leaders
helped in traffic control.
Activity was most concentrated at the community hall, where people were
still trapped beneath the rubble. Winch lines pulled and men pumped
hand-jacks, trying to remove the debris.
At 10:10 p.m., enough collapsed timbers and chunks of concrete from the
community hall were lifted to remove victims, some still living, others
By 10:15 p.m., there were too many helpers and for the first time of the
night, officers began asking volunteers to stay back.
"We've got too many people in here to do our work," came the voice over
the bullhorn. "We need to clear the area so we can work."
"I need a flashlight, said justice of the peace Rosendo Carrasco, trying
to find a pulse of a man just pulled form the rubble.
"What time is it? he asked.
10:15. Carrasco pronounced the man dead, the 13th time he had performed
the ritual so far. But not the last.
At 10:20, the bullhorn sounded again.
"Turn off all your motors," came the instructions. "Please turn off all
your motors. We need to listen."
Dozens of engines were silenced, and the bullfrogs were the loudest
noise to be heard. No new voices came from the rubble.
The motors began again, the rescue work resumed. A long, grim night
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324 S. Cedar, Box 2057, Pecos TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321