35 years ago, the deadliest tornado in West Texas history damaged more than 80% of Saragosa, a town of less than 400 people at the time. May 22, 1987 changed countless lives, including two men whose paths crossed.
Jimmy Gallego, a Saragosa man who had his home rebuilt after the tornado, was home with his father that Friday evening near sunset. As they stepped outside to greet their family who returned from grocery shopping, the clouds darkened, and the winds picked up.
“And then all of a sudden, everything came to a still.”
The winds died down around 8:16 pm, and then…
“My dad said, ‘oh man, the tornado just formed. It’s already coming down.’”
Kent Porter, a Midland Reporter-Telegram photojournalist at the time, was only moments away from covering what would arguably be the most important event of his long career.
Kent then received a radio call that evening from a person who said…
“‘Oh…it hit Saragosa. We have, we have major damage. Send everybody.’”
After Jimmy and his father spotted the tornado nearby, the family ran for cover underneath The Toyah Creek Bridge just under a half a mile away. Soon after, the tornado grew to a half a mile wide and closed in on them towards the muddy creek.
“Ahh, it was just like two freight trains grinding up metal, metal, just bad.”
As the tornado strengthened to an F4 on The Original Fujita Scale with winds up to 207-260 miles per hour, the family was battered by flying debris.
Jimmy’s father struggled to hold on to one of the beams underneath the bridge.
“That wind would just whipping him like a, just like a rag. It had him up, taking him up and down up and down but, my dad was just…he was a big man, strong. He was holding on to that beam and…he survived it.”
As the tornado dissipated, Kent arrived in Saragosa. Despite the darkness, spotlights made things clear enough for him to realize that buildings were destroyed and people were dead.
“It’s been so long. But, but my first reaction was shock, shock and sorrow.”
Because a tornado siren was not in place, there was little warning when the tornado touched down during a pre-k graduation ceremony at Head Start Community Center, tragically accounting for 22 of the 30 deaths.
The Center has since been rebuilt, but those lives have not been forgotten.
Amidst the destruction that night, Kent met with Jimmy.
“We had that connection at what we saw. I think there were some unwritten words there about, an unwritten voice about, you know, ‘I know what you witnessed and I’m not going to ask you about it because I know it’s a painful memory.’”
After Jimmy and his family and hundreds of people were treated in hospital care, recovery efforts were already well underway.
Kent captured the devastation for a two-week span to make sure that the footage he took would inspire more people to help.
“Saragosa, ummmm…deserved that type of coverage. It just got to be, it just got to be almost overwhelming because you’ve seen, you saw so much grief that you just kind of have to take a step back, you know.”
We’ll always remember the 30 lives lost in Saragosa on this tragic day and all of those impacted by the devastating tornado.
Tornado Memorial Mass – Saragosa: (These 30 names below indicate the people who died from the F4 tornado that hit Saragosa on Friday, May 22, 1987. More than 40 people commemorated these victims by attending a 35th anniversary memorial mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Saturday, May 21, 2022 at 4 pm. For more on this mass, please check out this story on https://www.yourbasin.com/news/tornado-memorial-mass-saragosa-5-21-2022/).
-Maria Socorro Balderas
-Edward Herbert Berdan
-Eleanor Vasquez Brijalba
-Amelia Vasquez Carrillo
-Jose Lucas Carrillo
-Olivia Rodriguez Contreras
-Kathy Locy Escobedo
-Irma Rodriguez Garza
-Jose Lionel Garza Jr.
-Pedro Porras Meraz
-Maria Ninfa Ontiveros
-Matilde Mondagon Prieto
-Omero Perez Sanchez
Instructions to Donate: (You can support the Saragosa community at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church by making a donation in-person. You can also easily donate online via the link below provided by Santa Rosa De Lima Catholic Church in Pecos under The Foundation for the Catholic Diocese of El Paso. Under the dropdown menu, choose “Sunday Collection/Our Lady of Guadalupe” with the desired donation amount. Another way to donate online through this link below is via your phone by simply texting 432-348-2309 this message: “Hi…I would like to donate today;” and then, follow the previous instructions when you get a message response with the link). https://giving.parishsoft.com/app/giving/santarosa
Aftermath Photos: (The link below includes the collection of aftermath photos caused by the Saragosa tornado. Kent Porter took these photos for The Midland Reporter-Telegram). https://www.mrt.com/news/article/Today-marks-the-32nd-anniversary-of-deadly-13874832.php#taboola-15