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May 23, 1987

Saragosa was thriving town in early 1900s

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PECOS, MAY 23, 1987 - In the early days of this century, Saragosa was a
thriving community with a bank, hotel, grocery stores, churches and

Faster transportation during the '30s and early '40s made it feasible
for much of the trade to drift to larger centers and the community
gradually lost most of its businesses.

Today, even what survived the years is gone.

Both Saragosa and nearby Verhalen won wide recognition in 1958, when
they won first place in a district contest in community, home and ranch
improvement. The two communities participated in the contest as the
Cotton Valley Progress Club, which was organized in 1957 through the
efforts of the Home Demonstration Club.

The club was organized with the member ship including families living in
an area blooded on the south by the bridge at Saragosa.

The Cotton Valley Progress Club was responsible for many of the
community's improvements during the '50s.

As cotton farming declined, however, more and more families moved away.
The school closed, with students now being bused to Pecos for classes.

The old school building in recent years had been used for a Head-Start
program for the community's youngsters. About 20 of them were to be
honored in a graduation ceremony Friday night.

Then the tornado hit and Saragosa will never again be the same.

Joey Herrera's son among

victims; wife still missing

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PECOS, MAY 23, 1987 - Pecos resident Joey Herrera has identified his
1-year-old son as among the dead from the tornado that hit Saragosa

Fort Stockton Funeral Home officials said Herrera was there at about
10:30 a.m. today to identify the body of Jonathan Ross, whose first
birthday reportedly would have been Sunday.

Authorities have been unable to locate Herrera's wife, Elsa, as
confirmed by the funeral home.

Herrera was scheduled to be the main speaker at the Head Start
pre-school graduation at Saragosa Hall Friday night.

More than 100 parents, friends and family met to celebrate the
graduation of 22 children, ages 3 and 4, just minute before the tornado

Hail hits local crops Thursday

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COYANOSA - Three to six inches of hail battered hundreds of acres of
cotton, watermelons, cantaloupes and onions Thursday evening.

The storm proved only a prelude, however, to the killer tornado that
wiped out the town of Saragosa the next night.

Thursday night's storm struck shortly after 8 p.m., pounding the
Coyanosa area with marble sized hail. Reports form the Coyanosa Gin Co.
south of Coyanosa said the hail was three inches deep in the yard there,
while as much as six inches was reported on the ground at the Coyanosa
Co-Op Gin on FM 1450 to the north.

"The hail was so deep it looked like a four-inch snow had covered the
land when the storm was over," farmer Clarence Stephan told the Fort
Stockton Pioneer.

According to the Pioneer, producers still had not been able to assess
the damage completely on Friday, but destruction was widespread.

"The losses are tremendous all over the valley," Stephan reported. "Most
of it is just wiped out."

Coleman asks president for disaster declaration

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Congressman Ronald Coleman has requested that Saragosa be declared a
federal disaster area, and reported early this afternoon that he is now
waiting for a response from Pres. Ronald Reagan.

"My office in Washington delivered the request to the White House this
afternoon," said Coleman, who was calling from El Paso.

Coleman said he had been in touch with Reeves County Judge Bill Pigman
and is scheduled to arrive in Pecos and assess the damage in Saragosa
first hand late today or early Sunday.

"The request would bring into affect all the aid for this type of
disaster," he said.

Coleman can be contacted through his Pecos assistant, Martha Fleming, at
his office on the third floor of the post office building. She can be
reached at 445-6218, Fleming said.

State government officials were also in the are surveying the damage,
she said.

Saragosa constable gives

eyewitness account inside hall

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By Nancy Bentley
Staff Writer

PECOS, MAY 23, 1987 - Thomas "Tio" Martinez, precinct 3 constable at
Saragosa, was a witness to the chaos inside the building where a Head
Start program was being held when the tornado struck.

His quick thinking probably saved his life and those around him when one
wall of the re-enforced concrete wall fell in on the people gathered

"I felt the weight of the wall coming down on us," said Martinez. "There
were several people around me."

"We were under a long folding table, and I pushed with my back
supporting the weight. My hand was trapped under something and I knew
there were people around me but I couldn't tell who they were. We were
there for two hours before the rescue workers got to us and pulled us
out alive," he said.

"We didn't know there was a tornado," he said. "Those other people in
the building didn't have a chance, when the concrete wall slammed down
on them."

"Someone had come running in and grabbed one of the kids saying there
was a tornado coming, but we thought the building was strong enough to
take it. It's reinforced concrete, not blocks, it was solid."

"I was one of two guest speakers for the graduation ceremony for the
pre-schoolers. I had to be there, otherwise I would have been at home
with my family. We might be dead now. Our home was completely destroyed."

"My family was right there at the hall with me. My wife was bruised by
my daughter is all right," he said. "My back hurts a little, but thanks
to God we're all alive."

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