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"How can anyone describe what is so much heartache and pain brought on
so rapidly," he said.
"When I came on the scene with the ambulance crew, the condition was
very muddy; very very difficult. everything was leveled, totally
destroyed. There was devastation everywhere. Two bodies were close by.
"We went into a car where there were people, two elderly and some
children. It was a difficult thing. There was a baby girl, maybe a year
and a half old. She was still and motionless, without life. she was
gone, she was cold.
"Another little girl, five or six years old, lay on the front seat of a
car. She was in shock, she looked like she was asleep with very little
response until we moved her.
"The shock was probably from internal injuries and maybe back injuries.
She was in a lot of discomfort and pain when we tried to move her. There
was a little boy there too, they were both critical.
"We had to send them to Fort Stockton hospital. Reeves was overwhelmed
"We moved over to another location where workers were trying to
extricate people from the debris.
"I shouted as long as I could that we could take two more noncritical
persons in the ambulance, but it was chaotic. Nobody could listen. Over
to one side I could see seven or eight bodies lying face down, obviously
"The hardest part was to see the heartache and pain of relatives
overwhelmed and devastated, knowing they had lost loved ones.
"It was very difficult to even observe it all or to try to help. There
was heavy debris everywhere and people hurt and crying.
"The emergency personnel and rescue workers were trying to do the best
they could to save as many as they could," Rev. Rojas said.
"I remember one of the first things I saw was a car upside down on the
side of the road, everything was very muddy, very wet and cold and dark.
"People were so covered with mud, and dirty it was very difficult to
determine who they were. The children we saw were covered with mud. It
was hard to matted in mud. It was hard to determine whether they were
girls or boys. All you could see was sizes and shapes.
"I have a church near Saragosa. It was in the tornado's path. I'm
supposed to speak there today. I know I've already lost one church
member. I haven't been there, yet, but I know my church, the Seventh Day
Adventist Mission, was devastated and a mobile home residence there was
totally destroyed, Rev. Rojas said.
Gov. Bill Clements is due here at 2:30 p.m. today to survey the south
Reeves County community of Saragosa, which was leveled by a tornado
The governor's itinerary calls for him to return to Pecos from Saragosa
at 4 p.m.and leave here at 5 p.m., said Texas Ranger Joe Coleman, who is
assigned the task of accompanying Clements.
Clements has already asked president Reagan to declare Saragosa a major
disaster area to help it qualify for federal loans and grants for
"I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude
that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the
affected local government, and that supplementary federal assistance is
necessary," he wrote.
Twenty-nine persons were killed in the sudden storm, 121 were injured,
and homes, a school and a community hall were destroyed.
"There ware no words that can soften the pain and anguish or replace the
loss of the people of Saragosa," Clements said.
There is nothing that can replace loved ones or the lives and homes they
shared with survivors who now must pick up and go on."
Reagan will make his decision and a review by federal disaster officials.
John Jackely, press aide to U.S. Rep. Ron Coleman, said today, "We
hand-delivered a second letter to the White House this morning urging
President Reagan to make the highest possible level of federal
assistance available to the residents of Saragosa."
A first letter from Coleman to the President was delivered Saturday
morning, Jackley said, in which Coleman asked the President to make "an
immediate declaration of disaster to expedite all federal assistance."
Also working to accelerate federal assistance is U.S. Sen. Lloyd
Bentsen, James Taylor, toured the Saragosa area Sunday.
Jack DeVore, Bentsen's press secretary, said Taylor also talked to local
officials about the need for medical supplies for area hospitals whose
supplies were severely depleted by the catastrophe.
Taylor discussed the matter with John Puck, executive assistant to White
House Chief of Staff Howard Baker and asked him to do all possible to
speed up the process.
Puck told Taylor that a disaster declaration "likely is very imminent,"
"Hopefully, we'll get some word today," DeVore said.
Clements' letter asked that emergency loans be made available through
the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Farmers Home
State and federal officials examined the scene at Saragosa Saturday, and
Reeves County Judge Bill Pigman sent a letter to Clements the same day
formally requesting a state declaration of disaster.
Robert Lansford, state coordinator for the emergency management
division, said the damage assessment "allowed those involved in the
declaration process to have a first-hand look at the extent of the
damage and collect data, which is necessary when making a recommendation
to the governor or president."
Other help being sought includes federal temporary housing assistance,
and individual and family grants of up to $5,000 for serious needs not
met by other programs, said Reggie Bashur, Clements' press secretary.
Clements' letter said several state agencies have worked in the
Saragosa area since the storm hit, including the Department of Public
Safety, the Highway Department and the Parks and Wildlife Department.
PECOS, MAY 26, 1987 - Bishop Raymond Pena of the El Paso Catholic
Diocese conducted a funeral Mass at Saragosa Cemetery at 10 a.m. today
for 18 of the victims from Friday night's tornado.
Two group funeral services were held today, the one at Saragosa an done
in Wink for six people who also died in Friday's tornado.
Nine immediate family members - mothers and children, 'husbands and
wives, and pairs of sisters - were among the 28 who died in the Saragosa
The funeral mass at Saragosa Cemetery was for 18 Balmorhea and Saragosa
residents. Burials at both Balmorhea and Saragosa cemeteries followed
Funeral services at Wink Community Center were set for 2 p.m. today for
three Wink residents and three Balmorheans. Burial was to follow at
Funeral Mass and burials were held in Pecos on memorial Day Monday for
25-year-old Elsa Herrera and her son, Jonathan, who would have been a
year old SUnday. They were the only Pecos residents to die in the
tornado at Saragosa.
On Monday in Balmorhea, many came to pay respects to those whose
funerals were to be held today. Classrooms at Balmorhea High School
served as funeral parlors.
Rosary services were held at Balmorhea that night. Bishop Pena
Bishop Pena on Sunday afternoon conducted a memorial mass at the
crumbled site of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Saragosa. He
noted the church's religious statues that survived the tornado as a sing
of hope for the many who came to the open-air Mass.
Residents of Saragosa buried there today are Maria Socorro Balderas, 30;
Anita Brijalba, 77; Juanita Casillas, 34, 14, Casillas, 2, Elvira
Casillas, 14, (mother and daughters); Olivia Rodriguez Contreras, 46;
Irma Rodriguez Garza, 30, Jose Lionel Garza Jr., 1, (mother and son);
Pedro Porras Meraz, 57, Eva Meraz, 53, (husband and wife); Maria Ninfa
Ontiveros, 46; and Matilde Mondagon Prieto, 49.
Mrs Garza and Mrs. Contreras were sisters, according to the Pecos
Also buried at Saragosa today was Balmorhea resident Eleanor Vasquez
Blamorheans buried in their hometown today are Amelia Vasquez Carrillo,
71; Omero Perez Sanchez, 33 and Sylvestra Alvarez Sanchez, 31, (husband
Mrs. Carrillo's grandson, Jose Lucas Carrillo, 28, of Saragosa, was also
buried at Balmorhea today.
Those to be buried at Kermit today are Saragosa residents Anastacio
Morales, 25, Corina Morales, 24, and Andrew Morales, 1, (parents and
son); and Wink residents Jorge Martinez, 35, Roxanne Martinez (father
and daughter), and Socorro Rodriguez, 28.
Funeral services are to be held later this week in Ojinaga, Mexico, for
Saragosa residents Jose Madrid, 54, and Antonia Madrid, 48 (husband and
Kathy Jocy Escobedo, 17, of Toyahvale, is to be buried today after
services at 4 p.m. in Fort Davis, according to the funeral home.
Services are pending for Edward Herbert Burdan, 70, of Saragosa.
PECOS, MAY 26, 1987 - Local, national and area organizations are banding
together in an effort to aid the survivors of the deadly Saragosa
tornado that struck last Friday.
Plans to open relief accounts at both Pecos banks to collect money badly
needed by the Saragosa victims were being made today.
Already, more than $6,000 has been raised by the American Red Cross
Chapter in Odessa and more money is expected to come in today, according
to a report by The Associated Press.
Enough donations of clothing food and household items has been received,
and the Red Cross now is asking only for monetary contributions,
according to Katherine McCain, the executive director of the Red Cross
In Saragosa, the Red Cross established a post Friday and has about 130
representatives from area Red Cross chapters at the tornado site
including 41 national members, American Red Cross Public Affairs Officer
Susan Clowe said.
"We want to make sure that the affected families come to the Balmorhea
High School to register with us for disaster assistance," she said.
Red Cross officials in Saragosa have already been in contact with about
50 percent of the tornado victims and has been serving meals to the
victims, clean-up crews, emergency personnel and other people at the
site, she said.
"It is important that we let people know that all assistance from the
Red Cross is free," Clowe stressed.
Clowe said, financial donations could be sent to an area Red Cross
chapter and money could be remarked for the Saragosa relief effort.
Salvation Army representatives from the area are also in Saragosa and
have been there since Friday night, according to Ralph Lennon, the
Salvation Army's West Texas Service Unit representative.
Two canteens, from Midland and San Angelo, were dispatched to the
tornado site Friday and through Monday had served meals to 4, 174
people, Lennon said.
The canteens, headed by Maj. Harvey Harwell of Midland and Maj. Bob Hall
of San Angelo, will be in Saragosa for as long as they are needed,
Donations to the Salvation Army for Saragosa can be mailed to Pecos
Salvation Army; First National Bank; Box 2077; Pecos, Tx. 79772.
Among the relief organizations involved in helping Saragosa victims are
the Catholic Charities and Catholic Counseling Services which are
branches of the El Paso Catholic Diocese, according to Rev. Ed Roden of
Santa Rosa Catholic Church in Pecos.
Catholic Charities is collecting food, clothing and financial
contributions to help the families reestablish themselves, Roden said.
Catholic Counseling Services is an organization set up to help the
tornado victims deal with the emotional trauma of the situation, he said.
Roden said response from the 52 parishes under the El Paso Diocese has
been tremendous and calls from as far away as Indiana and California
have been received.
Bishop Raymond Pena, head of the El Paso Diocese, arrived in Pecos
Saturday and is in Saragosa helping to assess what aid is needed by the
victims, Roden said.
The emotional trauma of the tornado victims is also a priority of the
Reeves County Mental Health Center, according to Theresa Gonzales,
director of the center.
The center will work with red Cross officials in setting up counseling
sessions and also plans to set up long term counseling from the victims,
Gonzales stresses that survivors needing assistance from the Center can
contact her office at 447-2628 or can come by the center at 700 Dagget
On Wednesday, representatives from the district Social Security
Administration office in Odessa will make a special trip to Pecos,
according to Lupe Ohmes, claims representative with the Odessa office.
Representatives will be at the community center from 10:30 a.m. until 12
p.m. to file disability or disaster assistance claims for the survivors,
U.S. Army personnel have also set up tents in Saragosa to be used as
feeding, medical and sleeping quarters by the Saragosa residents,
according to Deputy Jim Collins of the Reeves County Sheriff's
The tents were set up Monday by personnel from Fort Bliss, at the
request of the sheriff's department, Collins said.
PECOS, MAY 26, 1987 - Rosendo Carrasco went to Saragosa's community hall
Friday night to take pictures of pre-kindergarten graduates. He and a
friend had agreed to record the proud moment for families and friends.
Then, as he started home for Balmrohea, he thought the sky looked odd
and pulled his camera out again. He snapped a photo of what looked like
a twister in the sky.
It wasn't long before Carrasco was back in Saragosa, this time in his
capacity as justice of the peace, carrying out his grim responsibilities
of certifying deaths, as well as assisting rescue operations for the
It was only later that Carrasco could take the time to have his film
developed and discovered his photo of the death-dealing tornado.
The picture was transmitted around the world by Associated Press
Laserphoto and NBC Television.
Like the death certificates he signed, it was one more record of tragedy
provided for history by a justice of the peace who was on the scene.
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