Some residents still recovering from tornado

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

CLOVIS — On the 2100 block of South Prince Street lay a tan house surrounded by a tunnel of trees. It served its purpose — helping Jim and Iris Blevins raise their four children and giving them shelter for nearly 30 years.

That modest residence is still home to the Blevinses, but it hasn’t been shelter since March 23, when a tornado ripped through it and an estimated 500 other homes and buildings in eastern New Mexico.

Home is now a fifth-wheel behind the house, which waits on compensation money for repairs and collects water damage every time a storm seeps through the tarp Jim can’t keep on due to eastern New Mexico winds.

Every time Jim, a retired railroad worker, steps off of the fifth-wheel’s thin steps, he’s reminded of the March 23 tornado that killed two residents, including his mother, 90-year-old Heleneta Blevins.

“She was old, but she was neat,” Jim said of his mother, who died March 27 from injuries she suffered when winds of up to 125 mph destroyed her trailer house, where she and Jim took cover.

Nine months later, the couple still does not have their house back, and he gladly would have traded the house and everything in it to have his mother, who would make a pineapple upside-down cake for every birthday and hunting season.

Even through their frustrations, they keep crosses throughout the trailer, say “God bless you” when somebody sneezes, and always say God will provide for them in the end.

“We don’t ever consider ourselves victims when we compare ourselves to (victims of Hurricane) Katrina,” said Iris Blevins, who is recovering from health matters not related to the tornado.

Iris and Jim look fondly back on all of the help they received from their children, who arrived the day after the tornado to help however they could. They reflect on the generosity of strangers, like a man who baked cookies they remember as “Cole from Canyon, Texas,” and hundreds of others who helped clear out what was left of the tree tunnel and numerous car parts that had blown over from what used to be the Clovis Body Shop two buildings south.

It was a volunteer effort that helped the city recover so quickly, Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said.

“It happened on Friday evening,” Thomas said, “and by Sunday afternoon most of the community was out in some way or another participating in the cleanup.

“I don’t think the city can take credit for putting it all together. It was just a neighbor helping neighbor response.”

Thomas thought the city did a respectable job in the tornado’s aftermath, but admitted the city could have done a better job in some areas.

“We blocked off neighborhood(s) and wouldn’t let residents back in a timely fashion,” Thomas said. “We need to let people in, even if it’s just to retrieve medication.”

Even that, the Blevinses didn’t mind.

“They were protecting our property,” said Jim, referring to early looting.

“That’s the only bad part of the tornado,” Iris said, staying on the subject of looting. “The outpouring from the community, it outshone the little bit of negative.”

The Blevinses’ biggest problem has been trying to get their home back the way it was. Even with her health problems, Iris has been the person to spend hours on the phone with insurance representatives, who have told the couple they will have to pay for the first $22,000 in repairs before the insurance kicks in. That’s the case, even though they have $204,000 of insurance for a home valued at $154,000, Iris said.

“I’ve been trying to stay out of it because I have a temper,” Jim said. “I don’t hear (the phone) well, and I tell people what I think.”

They can’t ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to step in, because FEMA covers unmet expenses after all issues are resolved with insurance companies.

The inconvenience will go on for the Blevins family, because Jim figures fixing the house would take six months from the day repairs start — whenever that is.

The home is still solid and standing, as Jim can give a tour of where water has seeped in through holes in the tarp. When he talks of insurance representatives who said he’s responsible for all damage that has happened while he’s waiting on repairs, he calls them “buttheads,” to which Iris chides, “Be nice.” He responds, “I did,” and laughs as he said he was thinking of other words.

They’re committed to doing whatever they need to get their house and get healthy, so Jim can go back to being the person from which neighbors and friends borrowed hunting gear from and Iris can get back to her job at Western Dairy Transport, which has helped them throughout with extended sick time and collections taken up by coworkers.

Their friends and family are watching out for the Blevinses, and they’re not the only ones.

“We know God is in control,” Iris said. It’s just the interim period that’s bad.”