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"Last night, all I knew was that the town was leveled," said Miss
Bitolas, a public spokeswoman for the Reeves County Hospital, said
The hospital was the first to begin receiving some of the 121 victims of
the tornado that hit Saragosa Friday night.
"From a professional standpoint, I had to keep working, but kept looking
at the list, because I was so worried. Then, they told me my relatives
were all right."
The 62-bed hospital treated about 100 people and moved 20 to 25 beds
into the lobby, "Family members were outside peering through the
windows, looking for their relatives," Miss Bitolas said.
The lobby was so filled with hospital beds, visitors couldn't get in,
Many of the patients were transferred to other hospitals. The majority
of injuries were lacerations, fractures and back injuries.
"I didn't get to do any speeches," he said from a hospital bed in Pecos
Saturday. "I'm just glad I'm alive."
A 54-year-old cotton farmer and town constable, Martinez is a lifelong
resident of Saragosa and a community leader.
He was sitting on the stage in the community building where the
graduation for 20 youngsters was getting started. His wife, daughter and
granddaughter were seated in the audience.
"Some guy came running in, jumped up on the stage and grabbed his kid.
People started yelling "There's a tornado coming," Martinez said.
"I jumped off the stage, got my family, and we got against the wall.
Everybody was trying to take cover. The wind blew out the inside of the
building, he said.
"The walls started collapsing, and then I felt a pressure on my back and
realized I was trapped underneath the wall."
Martinez and his daughter, Elodia Garcia, and her daughter, Amy, were
trapped in a cavity in the collapsed wall for what he said seemed like
They yelled and could hear people digging and searching.
Finally, through a hole, he saw a friend, We Elliott, and yelled to him
to get a jack to get the wall off his back.
Martinez' had was trapped under the concrete wall, and his fingers were
numb and his back was getting numb.
"It's a scary feeling being trapped like that," Martinez said.
Elliott and other rescue workers, who included friends and relatives,
eventually got a jack and were able to lift the wall enough so he could
get his friend free.
"There was a hole, and I pushed my granddaughter out, then I crawled out
and people pulled me out," he said.
Martinez said his house and pickup were wiped out.
"We lost everything, but I'm thankful all my family is alive. I think I
Maria Socorro Brijalba, 65, of Balmorhea.
Anita Brijalba, 77, of Saragosa.
Eleanor Vasques Brijalba, 65, of Balmorhea.
Edward Herbert Burdan, 70, of Saragosa.
Amelia Vasquez Carrillo, 71, of Balmorhea.
Lucas Jose Carrillo, 28, of Saragosa.
Elsa Casillas, 2, of Saragosa.
Elvira Casillas, 14, of Saragosa.
Juanita Casillas, 34, of Saragosa.
Olivia Rodriguez Contreras, 46, of Saragosa.
Kathy Joyce Escobedo, 17, of Toyahvale.
Irma Rodriguez Garza, 30, of Saragosa.
Jose Lionel Garza, 1, of Saragosa.
Elsa Lara Herrera, 25, of Pecos.
Jonathan Ross Herrera, 11 months, 28 days, of Pecos.
Antonia Madrid, 48, of Saragosa.
Jose Madrid, 54, of Saragosa.
Jorge Martinez, 35, of Wink.
Roxanne Martinez, 8 months old, of Wink.
Eva Meraz, 53, of Saragosa.
Pedro Porras Meraz, 57, of Saragosa.
Anastacio Morales, 25, of Balmorhea.
Corina Morales, 24, of Balmorhea.
Maria Ninfa Ontiveros, 46, of Saragosa.
Matilde Mondragon Prieto, 49, of Saragosa.
Socorro Rodriguez, 28, of Wink.
Omero Perez Sanchez, 33, of Balmorhea.
Sylvestra Alvarez Sanchez, 31, of Balmorhea.
Individual donations and funds raised by local groups likely total more
than $30,000, though exact figures are unavailable.
Trust funds will be set up this afternoon at each Pecos bank monies that
have been contributed, Pigman said. he said Red Cross representatives
were "happy" with this arrangement.
The decision was made following a meeting of numerous disaster-relief
workers including Pigman on Monday.
To avoid duplication of aid to the many in need, distribution of the
funds will be handled jointly by Pecos Ministerial Fellowship president
David Bugg and Reeves County Community Council director Mary Mitchell.
Mrs. Mitchell said today that the council has received a number of
donations because it is the parent organization of Head Start, which was
holding graduation ceremonies when the tornado hit.
Mrs. Mitchell said donations she has received include $265 from the
Trinity Lutheran Church youth group, which also collected canned foods
on Saturday, $250 from local U.S. mail carriers, and about $40 from
parents in the Head Start program.
Numerous churches have or will have special collections for Saragosa
disaster relief, Bugg aid.
The First Baptist Church in Pecos has collected $13,000 and more than 75
boxes of clothing, and it has delivered much food to the area, said
church secretary Nancy Russell. Donations have come from church members
and others in town, and a San Antonio man dropped a $10,000 check by the
church on Monday, Mrs. Russell said.
Golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez donated another $10,000. This donation came
from his $37,500 first-place winnings in the Silver Pages Classic
seniors' tournament in Oklahoma City this weekend, according to reports.
Another $6,000 was donated by a couple passing through the area,
according to county commissioner Bernardo Martinez.
The Mexican-American caucus of the state legislature has raised $1,000,
according to state representative Larry Don Shaw.
Jaycees across Texas at convention this weekend "raised $6,000 in 10
minutes," when informed of the need in Saragosa, said Pecos Jaycees
president Shirley Hannah.
The Pecos Men and Women's Golf Association donated $1,000 for relief,
and the nation-wide Head Start has promised a sizable amount to be sent
Pecos High School juniors and seniors have also done their part. Instead
of spending money left over from their prom, they decided to give the
more than $700 to the relief fund.
Local businesses helping in the cause include Al's restaurant, Pizza Hut
and Raul's Pawn shop.
The number of groups and individuals chipping in time and money seems to
grow as each hour passes and will likely continue until needs are met.
The Reeves County Sheriff's Posse in cooperation with area cattle
feedyards including Balmorhea Feeders has set a benefit barbecue will be
sold at the posse barn in Pecos beginning at noon, said posse corporal
He had come to announce that President Reagan had just declared Saragosa
a major disaster area eligible for federal assistance.
He came he said, "to help and to console but primarily here trying to
reinstitute a community that has just been devastated by a natural event.
"I have to say it's the worst I've ever seen," said Clements, who had
visited Wichita Falls and Paris, Tex., after similar disasters.
Reporters repeatedly asked Clements why he had waited until four days
after the tornado to visit Saragosa.
After pointing out that members of this emergency management office had
come to Saragosa the morning after the disaster, he said, "I knew it was
more important to get relief condition sunder way... you can get out
here under the television cameras any time."
Saragosa resident Braulia Natividad, 28, complained to Clements that he
had not sent the National Guard to prevent looting that she said
occurred in the area immediately after the tornado had leveled the town,
killing 29 persons and injuring 162.
Sgt. Melton Rasberry of the Department of Public Safety said today the
National Guard was not needed and that, even if they had been ordered,
could not have mobilized quickly enough prevent any looting.
"There were people all over the area that night," he said. "It was an
emergency situation scattered over 500 acres. People could have picked
things up or the wind could have blown them away."
Reeves County Judge Bill Pigman said state officials responded
immediately after he requested state Sen. Bill Sims to send state help
Reporters also repeatedly asked for a specific amount in federal funds
that might be expected.
U.S. Sen. Lloyd Benten's Washington office announced the President's
disaster declaration at 3 p.m. CST, only 30 minutes after Clements'
plane arrived at Pecos Municipal Airport.
Bentsen's Press Aide Jack DeVore said the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) will set up a disaster relief application office in
Balmorhea High School by next weekend.
About 20 federal, state and local agencies ill be on hand to assist
tornado victims, he said.
Some of the assistance programs that they may apply for include:
*Long-term, low interest Small Business Administration loans for those
who were gainfully employed at the time of the disaster;
*Government-paid rent for up to one year in temporary housing, either in
a trailer park in Saragosa or in apartments or houses in nearby towns;
*Grants of up to $5,000 for low-income residents, 75 percent of which
will be paid by FEMA and 25 percent by the state; and
*Long-term unemployment benefits to anyone who lost their job as a
result of the disaster.
Mike MIller of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Al Luna and Frank
Callazo of the House Mexican American caucus, and State Representative
Larry Don Shaw drove to Balmorhea from the Pecos Municipal airport this
They carried with them the American flag that flew over the state
capitol on Memorial Day in honor of the Saragosa tornado victims. The
flag will be given to Catholic church leaders of the community.
Also in the hands of the state officials were two House resolutions
expressing condolences about the tragedy as well as hopes for the future.
A resolution drafted before federal aid was granted Tuesday noted recent
reports that indicate Saragosa may not "technically" quality for a
federal major disaster declaration because the total worth of the town
is below federal limits.
"It is still a serious concern that some of these folks may not qualify
for the federal assistance," Shaw said.
"There may be funds through Texas Department of Community Affairs that
the governor can release to fill in the gaps."
Shaw, D-Big Spring, said the House would consider specific requests for
TDCA funds after federal officials have made their assessment of the
Miller said he is working with folk singer Willie Nelson's Farm Aid for
possible assistance to Saragosa.
An immediate need that Miller is working on is transportation.
"This is the time of year when departments are getting rid of their
surplus vehicles," he said. "The department of agriculture is already
involved ins ending pickups and station wagons, and we are working with
other departments that may move some surplus vehicles out here."
Luna, D-Houston, today presented to Red Cross officials a $1,000 check
from the Mexican-American caucus that he chairs. He and caucus member
Callazo, D-Port Arthur, said fundraising efforts by that group will
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