A tornado hit the city of Clovis on Friday night. The unidentified passenger in this car on Mabry Drive escaped serious injury, according to witnesses. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Freedom Newspapers
The worst tornado in Clovis’ history struck the city’s southeast side Friday night, leaving more than a dozen injured and possibly hundreds of homes damaged.
No deaths were reported, but officials said at least three patients at Plains Regional Medical Center were listed in critical condition.
Rescue workers were still searching storm-ravaged homes early this morning in search of injured or trapped residents. Details related to damage were not immediately available.
“We don’t know what we’re dealing with until the sun comes up and the lights come on,” said Clovis police spokesman Jim Schoeffel at a news conference late Friday night.
The tornado, wrapped in heavy rains, hit the city at 7:54 p.m., the National Weather Service reported, about 20 minutes after tornado sirens warned of danger. Debris was strewn across U.S. Highway 70 and officials quickly closed the road and urged sightseers to stay away. It remained closed early this morning.
The downtown area was flooded and power was knocked out across more than one-third of the city. Many areas remained dark early this morning. Traffic lights were not working downtown or at the intersection of Mabry Drive and Prince Streets.
The Clovis News Journal lost power and was forced to print the newspaper in Roswell.
Devastation in Clovis
“I don’t think that I’ve ever seen anything like this,” Clovis Mayor David Lansford said. “I feel devastated by what I’ve seen firsthand (driving through the affected area). It makes you want to cry.”
Officials before midnight reported about 30 residents had been displaced and were staying in Rock Staubus Gymnasium.
Before Friday, Clovis’ most damaging tornado struck on Sept. 17, 1944, leaving about a half-dozen injuries and “eight small homes demolished,” according to newspaper archives.
At least five tornadoes were spotted in the area before Clovis was hit, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Chuck Jones. Jason Boggs, a storm spotter from Amarillo, said he saw the twister that likely hit Clovis while it was still in Roosevelt County. He estimated it was one-half mile, but said he believes it was not that wide when it struck Clovis.
NWS officials reported tornadoes were spotted near Milnesand, Arch, Rogers, Portales and Clovis.
Residents survey wreckage
Hospital staff reported injuries were manageable.
“People are worried,” Terry Marney, PRMC’s quality and safety manager, said about 10:15 p.m. “It’s not overwhelming. We’ve been able to handle what’s coming in. It’s kind of scary right now.”
Marney said she could understand, as her house on Claremont Terrace got hit while she and her three cats stayed in a closet waiting out the storm.
Dina Sellers returned from dinner to find her home at 1427 Fairmount St. destroyed, its roof torn off. As her husband gathered a few belongings, she sat in his pickup truck, clutching a silver cross that once hung near the entrance of her home.
“This,” she said, holding up the cross, “was near the doorway when we came home. There is a God. No one’s hurt (from our family).”
Seller’s neighborhood, near Yucca Junior High School, was hit hard by the tornado. A part of Yucca Junior High School’s ventilation system was blown from the school into her front yard.
As she combed through wreckage to save photographs, she found items from other homes tangled with her own.
Her next door neighbor, Wayne Richardson, and his family pulled a tarp over a window that had been smashed, their feet crunching on shattered glass.
The Richardsons were home when the tornado ripped through Friday evening.
“It got deathly quiet either right before the tornado hit or right after,” Richardson said. “The good thing is my family is OK. Everything else is replaceable.”
Damage was also extensive along Mabry Drive. Rain still pummeled the streets as business owners surveyed damage Friday night.
Car Quest, a Mabry Drive business, collapsed under the wind. The brick facade and the roof caved in. Bill Aucutt, 79, father of the owner of Car Quest, stood under an umbrella and stared at his son’s ruined business.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “There’s not much you can say or do … It’ll take some time to try and clean up.”
Nearby, Roy Conn, owner of Smith RV & Marine Boat Show Room on Mabry, thanked God no one was hurt when one of his RVs flipped over and landed on a white car. Conn and others were shocked a tornado touched down in Clovis.
“This is a first,” he said.
Sellers said, “I had just said to my husband, ‘A tornado’s not gonna hit Clovis, we’re too low in the valley.’
“Well…,” Sellers continued from her husband’s truck, the ruins of her home scattered across the street.
Two hours after the tornado touched down, business returned with a vengeance at Taco Bell on Prince Street.
As portions of the town were pitch black, electricity at Taco Bell and and other stores on North Prince St. remained. Employees said thousands of dollars were gleaned in just two hours following the tornado, when the restaurant resumed business.
Employee Jayme Garcia said employees hid in the restaurant’s freezer during the tornado.
Other areas affected
The tornadoes also produced problems in neighboring communities.
Greg Gonzales, a Portales resident, was driving to Clovis when the weather started to worsen. He pulled over when the visibility got bad, then got a surprising visitor.
“All of a sudden, this man came running up and asked if I could help him,” Gonzales said. “The guy had blood on his left side. He had driven through the tornado and his truck flipped.”
The man didn’t request medical attention, Gonzales said; he only asked for a ride to his home on the outskirts of Clovis, just north of the Curry County line.
“The guy told me his name, but I don’t (remember) what it was,” Gonzales said. “All he kept saying on the way home was, ‘Please let my family be OK.”
Portales received heavy rain, but no injuries were reported and no ambulance calls were made related to the weather, Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said.
Some power lines were down on Cacahuate Road, State Road 202 to Muleshoe.
The Grande Vida Dairy on Cacahuate Road reported damage to some of its buildings, but no injuries were reported. Dairy Manager Mike Mitchell said his dairy was totally destroyed.
In Grady, Linda White said the Grady Baptist Church held between 75 and 100 people in its basement for about two hours as they waited out the storm.
Residents of Grady and nearby Broadview were given notification by the Grady Fire Department, who advised all residents to go to the church.
White said there wasn’t much damage in the community, but the storm left plenty of water.
Officials in Texico and Farwell estimated major flooding, and about three inches of rain in the area.
“We got some hail, lots of heavy rain,” Texico Fire Chief Lewis Cooper said, “but no wind damage.”
Cooper said a storm chaser told one of his firefighters a tornado was spotted five miles south of Farwell. A funnel cloud was also reported on the Bailey/Parmer County (Texas) line.
Some gathered at the fire station, Cooper said, while others gathered in private basements. No major damage was reported to buildings, but most farm roads were flooded.
In Dora, Guy Luscombe Gymnasium was busy Friday night with a Little Dribblers basketball tournament. It got a lot busier with the storms.
Paul Luscombe, Dora’s fire chief, said about 250 residents waited out the weather in the gym and were given an all-clear late Friday night.
Power was out in the south area of Roosevelt County, but was restored a little after 8 p.m., Luscombe said.
In Elida, Fire Chief Adam Anthony said two tornadoes possibly touched down in the area. Anthony said residents were actively seeking shelter, but reported no damage.
While tornadoes struck across eastern New Mexico, the bands played on in Floyd.
The Floyd Country Jamboree went mostly uninterrupted at the Floyd High School Gym, Floyd Fire Chief Leland Terry said the annual music festival’s Friday night performance had already begun by the time the storm set in.
Terry said some people were concerned about the weather and their return routes, but Floyd seemed to have it easier than neighboring communities.
Terry said some areas received an inch of rain or more, while others received none at all.