CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Numerous mobile homes off of South Prince Street were destroyed by the tornado, as seen in this photo taken March 24, the morning after.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Two years ago today, many residents were greeted by sights of destruction and debris when they emerged from their homes in the aftermath of the worst tornado to hit the area in at least 43 years.
The March 23, 2007, tornado killed two elderly residents, affected about 500 homes — 55 were destroyed — and resulted in millions of dollars of damage and clean up.
Yucca Middle School alone suffered nearly $1 million in damages.
The tornado also ravaged dairies in Roosevelt County as it made its way to the south end of Clovis, before weaving north through central residential areas of the city.
The majority of the recovery work is done, Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said, but there is still evidence of the destruction to be seen around the community.
“You can still drive through the area and see remnants of damage that have not been cleaned up. It was devastating to some who didn’t have insurance,” he said.
“As far as general service to the community, I would say that we have recovered, but there are people that were affected by the storm that will never recover.”
Thomas said the tornado issued the community a stark reminder that, “It is possible that we can be the victims of natural disasters,” and in the aftermath, emergency preparedness has taken on new meaning.
Thomas said the community was lauded by federal responders for high efficiency and fluid response to the crisis, but the practice and planning continues.
Local Emergency Management Director Ken De Los Santos said the community has long had an emergency planning component and the Local Emergency Planning Committee, a body with about 80 members, began growing in 2003 under new direction.
But the tornado, declared a disaster by former President George Bush, was a test, and they passed it, he said.
De Los Santos said estimates would place damage and recovery costs in the neighborhood of $8 to $10 million, not including countless volunteer and good samaritan efforts that went untracked.
When disaster hit, he said everyone knew their role and the pieces of the response and recovery puzzle slid together nicely.
“It worked extremely well,” he said.
“It was a good experience just to see that. We had so many things in place. We had the right people in the right place at the right time and we continue to plan and prepare and practice.”
Seeing the response first hand and having been through it in real life as opposed to in theory, De Los Santos said minor issues did arise, namely in the area of communication, but they were quickly handled and have been incorporated into future planning so they aren’t repeated.
And if another tornado were to strike, which is likely based on history and geographic predisposition, De Los Santos said he believes the area is prepared to deal with it again.
“It could happen anytime. Our storm season is usually April to September (and) we’re in tornado alley, so we can have that any time,” he said.
Tornado history: Curry County has recorded five F2 tornadoes since records have been kept:
• June 10, 1932
• Sept. 17, 1944
• May 24, 1957
• June 11, 1964
• March 23, 2007.
An F2 includes wind speeds greater than 113 mph. The county has not seen a tornado greater than F2 in 75 years of record keeping.
By the numbers:
20 —Million pounds of debris from the tornado taken to the landfill
35 — Patients treated at the hospital for tornado-related injuries, 4 were admitted and 2 later died.
55 — Homes destroyed
160 — People sheltered in hotels after the tornado
500 — Homes affected by the tornado
$200,000 — Provided from local money to cover needs not met by federal assistance
$800,000 —Repairs required to fix power lines and equipment