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Sadness in Saragosa

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Tornado makes direct hit on Community Center
©Scott Sines — Around mid-evening the newsroom started hearing reports of a tornado touching down in the little West Texas town of Saragosa. The community was celebrating a pre-kindergarten graduation at the Catholic Hall of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church when an F4 tornado came right in on top of them. Reporter Gary Martin and I drove through the night, and through the same weather system that dropped the tornado. We got there before daylight.
00118_s_r12ajclh3kn0118Temporary lights were focused on the rubble of the church community center. Survivors dug furiously at the rubble but the death toll rose with the sun. Twenty-two people died at the graduation ceremony and thirty in the entire town.
That was back in the day when newspapers in Texas competed for news statewide and at first light the boys from the Dallas News came in with a helicopter and trench coats. Gary and I had a beat-up Chevy mini-Blazer and a gas credit card.
We got a room at a bad hotel in nearby Pecos. The locals pronounced it Paycuss. We pronounced it Pickass. We got adjoining rooms and used one as an office/darkroom and the other for sleeping. The hotel maids hassled me for chemical stains on the towels, which I promptly ignored.
There’s a lot more to this story involving the journalistic physics of balancing the incredible grief you’re witnessing with an equal and proportionate amount of wild release. In this case it involves the gas credit card, a Harley Davidson and a massive Native American named Big Jake with a fishook shaped scar on his face. That story will wait for another day.
I don’t guess it was the biggest story I ever covered but it might have been the saddest.

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