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SARAGOSA, TEXAS (AP) - Rescuers in mining helmets picked through rubble
today for victims of a tornado that flattened this tiny town and killed
at least 28 people, many of them children at a pre-school graduation,
More than 121 people were injured, and three were missing after the
tornado that struck Friday night, Reeves County Sheriff Raul Florez said
"The little town is pretty much destroyed," said Monahans Assistant Fire
Chief Doug Curbow.
By mid-morning in a heavy rain, authorities appeared to have ended their
search for bodies in the rubble of the community building where the
pre-school ceremony had been held. Dogs were used to uncover the bodies.
Moments before the twister struck this West Texas farm town around 8
p.m., parents frantically pulled their children from the stage of the
community hall where the graduation was taking place and shoved them
under tables and benches, a witness said.
Department of Public Safety spokesman David Wells said there could be
more dead in the fields but that rescuers were hampered by bad weather
and darkness. Saragosa was without power and the roads were nearly
A school bus was converted into a morgue.
Houses, which appeared to be mostly frame on cinder-block foundations,
were flattened throughout the community, leaving nothing behind to
indicate how the town once looked.
"There is no structure left in town," said Wells. "The stone building
was filled with 5-year-olds and their parents attending the ceremony."
PECOS, MAY 23, 1987 - A killer tornado dipped won on the small community
of Saragosa Friday just after 8 p.m., claiming at least 28 lives and
injuring an estimated 121 people.
Hardly a structure was left standing in the small town of about 185
residents as the tornado swept through, leveling an area approximately
one mile long and two miles wide.
Utility lines were torn down, plunging the area in darkness as the
tornado moved along the west side of State Highway 17, about 32 miles
southwest of Pecos.
Rescuers dug the largest number of fatalities from Saragosa Hall, a
community center, where 15 dead and numerous injured were pulled from
the rubble during the first hours of the search.
Volunteers were jacks, back hoes and picks continued to dig into the
debris throughout the night.
Graduation ceremonies for Head Start group of four-year-olds was
underway there when the tornado struck, and the structure collapsed on
top of the celebration.
Classes had been held in the nearby old Saragosa school, but nearby old
Saragosa school, but such a large number of parents and other relatives
had planned to attend the ceremonies that they were moved to the larger
Five bodies were removed from the demolished Candelas grocery and a
nearby bar almost immediately after the tornado struck. Rescue efforts
also continued there on through the night.
Three bodies were taken from a demolished home, with a fourth body found
under a small tree near a smashed pickup.
Approaching from the north, the firs signs of damage became apparent
near a small bridge.
Smashed cars were strewn about the shoulders of the highway, looking as
though they had been picked up from a wrecking yard and deposited on the
Tin was scattered everywhere and one car hung more than halfway through
the bridge railing. A smashed late model car sat in the middle of the
highway, completely stripped of tires, wheels and all accessories.
Power lines and transformers had been stripped from power poles. The
lines were across the highway, and many of the transformers had crashed
into the lanes. Emergency vehicles, volunteers and frantic relatives in
cars threaded their way through the debris.
Light poles were down, some on the highway. Others not completely down,
were leaning lopsidedly.
All power was out, the only lighting provided by headlights,
flashlights, and the erie flashing of the red and blue lights of
Even local residents had difficulty getting their bearings in the center
of what had been the town. No landmarks had been left standing.
PECOS, MAY 23, 1987 - A light mist was falling on the mud and rubble at
Saragosa this morning, and 14-year-old Eddie Lopez' face looked as dark
and empty as the sky.
His mother's purse in hand, Lopez surveyed the area where he and his
family escaped death in Friday night's tornado.
The base to their trailer home lay upside down about 75 feet though
shattered and battered, the upright in what was now just the skeleton of
"We saw it coming, and I knew we had to get away from the trailer,"
Lopez recalled. "The car was the only place I knew to go."
Lopez, his mother and 13-year-old sister ran to the car and got inside.
He heard the roar of the wind first, then the rip and shatter of the
mobile home. he felt the car shaking and heard those windows break, too.
"I didn't see anything," he recalled. "We had our heads down as far as
"After it was over, we went to the neighbors to call an ambulance. But
the phones were dead."
Adela Lopez and her daughter, Debbie, are at Reeves County Hospital
today with broken arms and legs.
Lopez' father, who was working in Van Horn when the tornado hit Saragosa
after 8 p.m. Friday, joined his son and hundreds of others today in
searching the area for any belongings of their families.
Benny Bajaran of Monahans was also looking for his mother's purse in the
fallen Saragosa this morning. "We need identification for the hospital,"
Juana Bajaran is in intensive care at Odessa Medical Center Hospital,
where she was transferred from Reeves County Hospital.
Bajaran rode with his mother in the ambulance transfer Friday night,
when neither of them knew what had become of his 7-year-old niece, who
was with Mrs. Bajaran when the tornado hit.
Terri Quintana is in Pecos County Memorial Hospital with bruises and
lacerations, Bajaran said today.
"We finally found her this morning," he said. "Someone said they had a
little girl in Fort Stockton - kind of a Jane Doe, because she wouldn't
say her name.
"they said everything was that a crazy Friday night," Bajaran said.
"People were just picking up who they could and taking them to whatever
hospital they could."
Continental telephone crews are busy at the scene, but a repair service
operator in Andrews said she had been in contact with them.
Those crews, she said, were working to get lines open for emergency
personnel, such as police, sheriff and other disaster workers.
She said they told her that the tornado "took out everything". One
report indicated a big "cabinet was totally destroyed," she said.
Electrical power crews from West Texas Utilities Co. worked throughout
the night to clear away debris and locate downed power lines, a
spokesman said. The company could give no indication when power might be
restored in the area.
PECOS, MAY 23, 1987 - An eye witness at the scene, a 43-year-old
underwriter for New York Life, Johnny Morgan of Midland, watched
formation of the funnel that become a devastating tornado in Saragosa
Morgan, his wife Carol, son Ricky and daughter-in-law Kathy were
traveling toward Saragosa for a weekend camping trip to Balmorhea Lake.
"We observed the funnel as we were approaching Saragosa from Pecos on
Highway 17. We were watching the funnel growing," said Morgan.
"We got to the edge of town and saw it getting closer to us and the
town. We were in its path," he said.
"Then was when I decide to turn back toward Pecos. We had been through
some hail about the size of a quarter for several miles, but I was
really alarmed by the tornado by now. The narrow stem had become wider
and darker as we got to the edge of the town," he said.
"What I thought at the time was cardboard flying in the funnel, now I
suspect must have been tin," Morgan said.
"We went a couple of miles and pulled over and watched for five minutes
or so before starting back into Saragosa. As we drove back into the town
we were absolutely shocked at the damage," he said.
"I've never been there and don't know what it is supposed to look like
or how many building there were. The buildings were flattened, cars were
strewn about power lines were down all over,"
"We tried to assist with the injured at the scene," he said. "We were
trying to help pull people out of a building, some kind of general store
"People were working very hard, but people were still trapped when I
left," he said. "They needed something that would lift cement and we had
been trying to use a bumper jack."
No one in the Morgan family was injured. The family came to Reeves
County Hospital in Pecos where Mrs. Morgan, a nurse, spent several hours
assisting the emergency situation at the hospital.
SARAGOSA, TEXAS, (AP) - When daybreak came, people in this town got
their first full glimpse of what the tornado had done.
They gazed in shock at the splintered pile that was their community.
Dogs that apparently didn't know they were homeless ran up and down the
main street nosing at the rubble.
A few ducks emerged from a house, while an injured pig roamed from lot
to lot. A single running shoe that looked brand new was wedged between
two cinder blocks.
The twister that hit Friday night turned the town upside down, tossing
kitchen utensils on top of window frames and leaving a cherished rocking
chair apparently intact atop a shattered house.
All around trees were snapped in half, their bare and sharpened branches
The tornado killed at least 28 and injured 121, officials said, an the
toll was expected to rise.
It came with no warning, Reeves County Sheriff Raul Florez said. "It was
a surprise to these people here."
Florez estimated about 80 percent of the town of 180 was destroyed, and
it was hard to tell how it had once looked.
At daybreak police dogs checked debris for signs of life before heavy
equipment moved in to cart the rubble away.
"This was our house," said Sergio Candelas, pointing to the remains of a
frame building that was both his family's dwelling and a small grocery
He said his family escaped Friday by getting into a car and driving out
of town, seeking shelter in a nearby cotton gin.
Saturday, family members came by for odds and ends: his mother's rocking
chair, an encyclopedia.
A wheelchair they owned came to rest upright at
the corner of the lot. But their pickup truck had vanished.
"I'm not too worried about the house," Candelas said. "We've worried
about. This house can be rebuilt somehow."
His family, in fact, was among the lucky.
Candelas said his mother, who takes care of his children, had not sent
them to the special preschool graduation Friday at a community building
where about half of the 28 deaths occurred.
The ominous weather had made her keep the children at home, he said.
His sister, Priscilla Rodriguez, who lives in Pecos, said the family
didn't have insurance. "Most of the people around here couldn't afford
insurance," she said.
Candelas and Mrs. Rodriguez said the town is tightly knit and they
expect it will survive this blow.
"We're fighting people," Candelas said.
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