Fast-food employees ride out storm in freezer

Recognize this photo? Marie Moore of Avondale Boulevard found it in her back yard after the tornado and wants to connect it with its owner. She can be reached at 762-6277. (Courtesy photo)

CNJ staff

Laura Aragon, 16, had been working at Long John Silver’s for only a couple of weeks when the tornado swept by the restaurant on Mabry Drive.
She said employees had been warned about the twister several minutes beforehand, and had managed to get customers out of the store and the cooking equipment turned off, “so that hot grease wouldn’t be flying everywhere,” said Aragon.
Then came the waiting — which didn’t last long.
“One of the bosses and another employee came in and said, ‘Hurry up, it’s right there. We can see it,’ because of the lighting, I guess,” Aragon recalled.
“We all ran into the freezer. It was kind of crowded because there’s all kinds of boxes in there, so we were all squished in there.”
In all, 13 Long John Silver’s employees piled into the freezer and stayed there for approximately 10 minutes.
“Everyone was like holding each other. Right after we shut the freezer door, you could hear the tearing of metal,” she said. “The whole wall, like two inches away from us, was all torn off.”
A great deal of the metal roof of a neighboring business to the south ended up in the restaurant’s parking lot.
“Mostly, the girls were sitting there crying,” Aragon said. “Myself — I was crying. Everybody was praying.”
— Eric Butler

Tornadic winds delivered something strange to Clovis resident George Prothro.
He found a sword in his backyard after last Friday’s tornado.
“We went around to see the damage. … There was this sword sticking out of the ground,” he said.
His neighbors reclaimed the sword a few days later, he said.
They told him the sword flew out of their shed during the tornado.
— Marlena Hartz

A Lockwood Elementary School teacher spent all spring break volunteering in disaster relief efforts, and refused to take time off even on her birthday (Friday), according to Salvation Army Capt. Kevin Ray.
Ray said Susan Tipton was dedicated to making sure all her kids from school were OK.
“She has been a super trooper. She’s still here and not wanting to leave. She knows all of our kids. She’s directing people to make sure her kids are being taken care of as well as everybody else,” Ray said.
— Sharna Johnson
A group of 11 fourth-graders from Lazbuddie, Texas, donated more than $600 Friday afternoon to the Clovis Salvation Army, according to Capt. Kevin Ray.
The children worked through the week to raise money for disaster victims, Ray said. They also donated food and empty boxes for victims to pack items in, he said.
“They just came in and dropped it off. It was just phenomenal.”
— Sharna Johnson

It took about 15 dump trucks as of Thursday to clean their property of debris from the tornado, Peggy Brown said.
The tornado sucked out the well on the property. Because of damage, the electricity was still out at the end of the week and propane could not be reconnected.
Living in the 4000 block of South Prince Street, Brown said her family had been staying in a hotel until they ran out of money toward the end of the week.
Her son, Jacob Fenn, said he had heard the sirens the night a tornado ripped through their home when he had gone to Allsup’s, north of their residence. When he realized there was a tornado, he said he hurried back home to be sure his family was OK.
“We didn’t have no warning,” he said, explaining they were unable to hear the sirens at the house.
Luckily, no one was hurt, he said.
Seeking assistance at the disaster relief center at the Curry County Fairgrounds, Brown said the family’s most immediate need was water.
“I don’t care what kind of water it is as long as it can be drank,” she said laughing.
— Sharna Johnson

Terri Garcia said they had just rebuilt their lives after losing their house in the 3000 block of South Prince Street to a fire five years ago when the tornado hit March 23.
Now they have to start over, having lost just about everything again, she said.
“We’re waiting for the
insurance,” she said, explaining her family anticipates most of the losses will be covered. “There’s nothing we can do.”
More than possessions lost, she said their goats had recently given birth. Those babies were killed in the storm, she said, and their mothers have been dying one by one since.
Family members have been fostering the goats, she said, but they are still losing them almost daily.
— Sharna Johnson

Serena Herrera is counting her blessings after a tornado that destroyed houses in her neighborhood in the area of Grand Avenue and Second Street left her home virtually untouched.
“Somehow, angels were looking over us,” the single mother of two said.
Suffering damage to her car, including a broken window, Herrera said the twister went between her house and another, sparing her family and her home.
“Our house really wasn’t affected,” she said.
— Sharna Johnson

Barbara Mullinax lives at 3720 S. Prince St. She was at home when the tornado hit.
“I was just kinda relaxing and the phone rang about 7:30,” she said. “It was my daughter from Friona. She said, ‘Mama, get in the hall, it’s hitting Clovis.’ Then I heard glass breaking on my door.”
Mullinax said she was not injured, but she lost two evergreen trees and a barn, in addition to the broken glass.
“It was a miracle of God it didn’t take this house,” she said.
She is also thankful for those who responded to the community’s needs following the storm.
“I have nothing but praise for the (Cannon Air Force) Base people coming out here on Sunday morning in busloads, the National Guard, the police out here patrolling. They were just wonderful,” she said.
— David Stevens

Britni Sherwood said her 84-year-old grandmother, Ann Wilkins, lives on South Prince Street. She rode out the tornado in her bedroom closet.
Sherwood said her grandmother’s home survived, but a nearby shop, chicken house and hay barn were destroyed, along with tools, hunting and camping supplies, and family Christmas decorations.
“What was ironic was that my grandmother’s house was 20 feet away from her barn and she never even had a picture fall off of the wall,” Sherwood said. “Her air-conditioner stayed on her roof. All kinds of debris came over from Clovis Body Shop, but nothing came into the house. It landed in her front and back yard and knocked out her front glass door, but that was it.”
Sherwood said packaged light bulbs in the barn were not damaged. She said she also found china stored in the barn that was not damaged.
— David Stevens

Johnny Jimenez, 34, was attempting to drive home when sparking power lines and large flying debris forced him to pull to the side of the road on U.S. 70, he said. “I just pulled over and hunkered down,” Jimenez said, “and my truck just started getting battered.”
After what seemed like forever, Jimenez said he was forced to crawl through a rear passenger window of his truck to seek assistance because his truck had flipped over. “I couldn’t get out either window,” he said.
By that time a line of traffic had formed on U.S. 70, and Jimenez began going car to car asking drivers to call his wife. “Cell phones weren’t working,” he said. “So, I asked Greg Gonzales if he could give me a ride and he said jump in.”
Jimenez said he will never forget the good deed Gonzales did that night or the thought that kept coursing through his mind.
“I just kept thinking, don’t take me now because I have to see my kids grow up,” Jimenez said.
— Tonya Fennell

That fateful Friday night is how Robert Calloway refers to the night the tornado whirled through Clovis.
The 35-year-old, who lives in a trailor near U.S.70, said he usually spends weekends watching movies. But that night his wife and daughter decided to make a surpise visit.
“I got a phone call saying, ‘Meet us at the airport in Amarillo,’” he said.
Calloway’s family’s plane was delayed so they decided to spend the night in Texas, he said.
“We decided to get a bite to eat,” he said, “and it got so late we just ended up getting a hotel.”
Unaware of the tornadoes path, which was headed straight for his rental property, Calloway said he and his family slept like babies.
But, that Saturday morning brought an unwelcome surprise.
“My landlord called,” Calloway said, “and told me don’t bother going home because I had nothing left.”
But the twister was not to blame.
Calloway said lightning struck the trailor and it burned to the ground.
—Tonya Fennell

Lauren Gallegos found herself home alone on the Friday the tornado ripped through Clovis.
The 16-year-old had plans to travel to Lubbock with her parents, but after missing curfew the night before, her mother had grounded her, she said.
Gallegos said she was watching television and talking on the phone when the electricity went off. “I got scared,” she said, “because it started hailing really hard.”
The teenager said she tried to call her parents but was unable to get a connection. “Then I got really scared,” Gallegos said.
Remembering her parents advice on dealing with a storm, Gallegos said she sat in the hallway wrapped in a blanket.
The Gallegos home was untouched by the twister, and her parents were able to reach her by phone shortly after it hit.
“They (parents) were so worried,” Gallegos said, “because they were hearing radio reports.”
Gallegos said she doubts if she will disobey her parents anytime soon.
—Tonya Fennell