Appendix B

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS

Presented below are accounts of the Saragosa tornado from eyewitnesses and others as communicated to NWS Survey Team members. To maintain their confidentiality, the respondents are identified only as citizens.

The night of the tornado Citizen One (a public official) was enroute to Saragosa Hall; he was running late. From Balmorhea he saw a dark cloud and used his sheriff's radio to put all units on standby. He proceeded to Saragosa and arrived moments after the tornado had struck. Saragosa Hall was destroyed, and he saw Citizen Two coming out carrying two crying children. There was rain and hail. He heard that someone had run into the hall and yelled a warning about the approaching tornado.

Citizen Two was assisting with the graduation exercise at Saragosa Hall. She observed that the wind was blowing very hard. The windows in the hall were high, so it was hard to see outside. One of the parents went outside and returned saying that a tornado was coming. The time was 8:10 to 8:15 p.m. Citizen Two stayed inside the hall and told people to move toward the walls. The children who had been on the stage were taken off and put under tables and against the walls; many were shielded by adults. None of the 4- and 5-year-old children participating in the graduation exercise were killed.

Citizen Two thought those in the hall had about a minute or so to protect themselves, some getting under tables by the south wall. She remembered thinking that the roof and windows would go, but she did not expect the south concrete walls to fall. She knew everyone was in great danger when the walls started to crack and crumble. She also mentioned that people in



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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO Appendix B EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS Presented below are accounts of the Saragosa tornado from eyewitnesses and others as communicated to NWS Survey Team members. To maintain their confidentiality, the respondents are identified only as citizens. The night of the tornado Citizen One (a public official) was enroute to Saragosa Hall; he was running late. From Balmorhea he saw a dark cloud and used his sheriff's radio to put all units on standby. He proceeded to Saragosa and arrived moments after the tornado had struck. Saragosa Hall was destroyed, and he saw Citizen Two coming out carrying two crying children. There was rain and hail. He heard that someone had run into the hall and yelled a warning about the approaching tornado. Citizen Two was assisting with the graduation exercise at Saragosa Hall. She observed that the wind was blowing very hard. The windows in the hall were high, so it was hard to see outside. One of the parents went outside and returned saying that a tornado was coming. The time was 8:10 to 8:15 p.m. Citizen Two stayed inside the hall and told people to move toward the walls. The children who had been on the stage were taken off and put under tables and against the walls; many were shielded by adults. None of the 4- and 5-year-old children participating in the graduation exercise were killed. Citizen Two thought those in the hall had about a minute or so to protect themselves, some getting under tables by the south wall. She remembered thinking that the roof and windows would go, but she did not expect the south concrete walls to fall. She knew everyone was in great danger when the walls started to crack and crumble. She also mentioned that people in

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO the area listen to radio station KIUN-AM. She was unaware of earlier warnings in the day for Ward and Ector counties. After she considered attempting to escape by automobile, she remembered that in a tornado staying inside was the proper action to take. The NWS Survey Team spoke to Citizen Three at the American Red Cross's temporary shelter in Balmorhea, Texas. Citizen Three was in Saragosa Hall the night of the tornado and had lost family members. She said there was no warning of the tornado, that all at once the building shook and then the walls fell. Citizen Three does not speak English, so she did not understand the warning shouted in English by one of the parents who had been outside and seen the tornado coming. Citizen Three said that she watches television stations 2, 7, and 9 in Saragosa and that she listens to a Pecos radio station. She knew the tornado safety rules about getting out of one's car and lying down in a ditch or, if in a building, getting under a strong table. Citizen Four is a Balmorhea teacher. From the east side of Balmorhea, he observed what he called a “wild” cloud, a torn, ragged base underneath the thunderstorm. The “wild” cloud was rotating. He thought the time was about 8:15 p.m. He recalled hearing a “roaring” sound, which he described as being like a train, though no trains run anywhere near Balmorhea or Saragosa. According to his clock, the power failed in Balmorhea at 8:20 p.m. Citizen Four stated that after the “wild” cloud and “roaring” sound there was heavy rain and golfball-size hall at his location. Then there was a second “wild” cloud but no rotation to it. He also related a report from some people he knew who were returning to Balmorhea from Pecos via Highway 17 through Saragosa. There were three individuals driving north to south through Saragosa. They saw the tornado and described it as “a wide mass that just [sat] down” after a funnel cloud had been “sucked” up into the thunderstorm. They stopped at a bar on the north side of Saragosa and went inside, where they got under a pinball machine. The building lost its roof and walls, and their car flipped over in the parking lot. Citizen Five and his wife, daughter, and mother were traveling south on Highway 17 toward Saragosa on their way from Midland to Fort Davis. Five miles north of Saragosa they encountered rain and golfball-size hall; 4 miles north they noticed a V-shaped cloud to the west. Three miles north of Saragosa they saw a funnel cloud for about 20 seconds. At this point, Citizen Five turned back and headed north toward Pecos but then realized it was the wrong way to go since the storm seemed to be moving in that direction. He turned around again and headed back south. The funnel cloud then seemed to have dissipated. One to 2 miles north of Saragosa he observed another funnel cloud closer to the ground and to the west. He and his family rode through Saragosa and saw people looking at the storm. When they got to Interstate 10 about 3

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO miles south of Saragosa, they saw a thin vertical tornado that swelled to a larger one in a few seconds. It seemed to touch down north of Interstate 10. There was no rain or wind yet. The tornado then just dropped. Citizen Five then drove to the Interstate 10 underpass and directed his whole family into a ditch. He realized it might not be safe there, but that it was probably safer than being in the car. Soon there was rain and wind. A “blue mess” was the appearance to the north (in the direction of Saragosa). He estimated that another 10 to 15 people were also under the underpass. Some were in their cars and others were not. Citizen Six's father had a mobile home near the bridge on Highway 17 in Saragosa. He tried to take shelter in a nearby frame home as the tornado approached, but the house was locked, so he returned to the mobile home. The mobile home was destroyed, killing his father and seriously injuring his mother. Both of Citizen Six's arms were broken. At least five people took shelter under a nearby bridge and all walked away after the tornado. Citizen Six stated that his family did not have time to reach the bridge. He remembers a car going up and down the street honking its horn before the tornado hit. The driver then got out and took shelter under the Highway 17 bridge. Citizen Six described the storm as three distinct tornadoes, each about the size of a football field moving in a circle. Citizen Seven had finished taking photographs of the graduation ceremony at Saragosa Hall when he began to leave. Upon exiting the hall he saw and photographed a funnel cloud southwest of Saragosa. The funnel went up and dissipated three times. The fourth time it came all the way down to the ground. People who were arriving at the hall late or leaving early saw the approaching tornado. Citizen Seven remembers that a man ran inside the hall and shouted that a tornado was coming. He estimated that the people in the hall had a 60- to 90-second warning. He also estimated that 70 to 80 people were in the hall. When the verbal warning was given, most stayed inside. After taking several pictures of the tornado, he left by car, driving north.