Area residents remember tornado

Five years ago, Clovis spent an evening in the dark, unaware of just what the tornado had done until the Saturday sunrise.

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks

Jim May, owner of Bigger Better Septic Tanks on South Prince Street, points to the direction the tornado of 2007 came from in the back of a new building at his business. The previous building was demolished in the tornado.

Two people died later from injuries suffered in the March 23, 2007 storm. Damage in the millions was inflicted across Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties, with 55 homes and businesses destroyed and another 450-plus damaged.

City officials recalled that damage was still visible two years later, and about $10 million was incurred in recovery efforts.

Whether the effect was minimal or devastating, Clovis residents still remember that night five years later. Here are some of their stories:

  • • •

Curtis Kennedy was working at Allsup's on 700 S. Prince St. when the tornado struck.

"Some people came by and told us to get ready, a tornado was coming through town. We got everybody out of the store, locked the doors and then gathered in the back away from the windows. We heard the wind and then, suddenly, it got really quiet and the lights went out. We thought it was over so we went back out to the front. A few minutes later I saw the glass windows suck in and pop back out, like they were breathing. I thought they were going to burst. Then I saw the tornado go right past the store. It hit the power lines across the street and they went down like dominoes. The two newspaper machines that were outside flew out away from the wall. If they hadn't been chained down they would have destroyed the cars parked in front of the building. It was scary. I've never seen anything like it. I never want to go through that again."

— Tonjia Rolan

  • • •

Courtesy photo: Jim May

Bigger Better Septic Tanks at 3320 S. Prince St. after the tornado struck the business in 2007.

Jim May, owner of Bigger Better Septic Tanks, was home sitting in his easy chair talking on the telephone with a friend when disaster struck.

"The lights went off and the phone went dead, so I got up and went to the door to look outside, but there was so much suction on the door I couldn't open it. I could hear the noise, and the tornado broke out a couple of windows in the house and tore up my barbecue grill. When I did walk outside my shop across the street was flattened. The tornado pulled up all the power lines and I didn't have electricity or water for seven or eight days. The police shut down the road so I had to be an outlaw to sneak in and out of my house."

May said he started cleanup the next day, had a building up within a week, but wasn't back in business for almost two months. "I don't think you ever fully recover. It's hard to get things back together like they used to be. It took two or three years to get things back into workable order."

— Tonjia Rolan

  • • •

Rhonda Miller of Logan can recall everything about that Friday afternoon even though she has since moved to Albuquerque.

"I can remember it like it was yesterday," Miller said. "I am certain God was watching over us that day."

Miller said she was feeding her two children and her niece, when her sister had called for a ride.

"I told my sister to wait cause I was feeding the kids," Miller said. " As I left I never looked outside and just threw a blanket over my son."

Miller said as she walked out it was calm and the whole sky was turning.

"They say you're supposed to hear a train or see a funnel," Miller said. "It was calm, quiet, no funnel, then the wind just exploded."

Miller said her sister called and told her there was a tornado. She said she ran her son back into the house as her daughter got into the vehicle and her niece was standing in the driveway.

"I kept calling for my niece to come back to the house, but she was frozen," Miller said.

Miller said she picked up her niece and put her in the house just as she turned a mattress flew by followed by metal, wood and insulation.

"I told my daughter to get down, on the floor board of the car," Miller said. "I could hear my son and niece crying but found myself looked out of the house."

Miller said the screen door handle had broken off from the outside. She said she ran around to the back door and got the children inside situated then went out to get her daughter.

"There was so much damage done around us," Miller said. "I keep thinking back and saw I did everything wrong. I should have gotten all the kids in at once, though it just didn't work that way."

Miller said her niece and son do not recall that day because they were younger. However, she said she and her daughter still get on edge when the wind picks up.

"I don't like the wind, and still don't do well when it starts blowing real hard," Miller said. "At one point I had nightmare about tornados. Though some say that normal just part of living through one."

— Thomas Garcia

  • • •

Christy Corn, an administrative assistant at her family's realty business, was at a friend's house watching a basketball game when an alert came on TV.

"I saw the warning and realized it was heading right for my house (on Lockwood). I went to my sister's house over on Gidding, where we went to her basement. I remember that it sounded like a train. I knew I was safe. I was grateful, and I knew a lot of people didn't have that opportunity.

"It took me several hours to get to my house to check the damage, because of the roadblocks and officers everywhere.

"It only had a shattered glass front door and garage doors completely pulled. Everything inside was unharmed. I had 100-year-old trees that were completely torn down. Mine was one of the few that didn't take damage; I was one of the lucky ones.

"Everyone on my street had to get new roofs. The electricity was out for two-and-a-half weeks.

"I remember the National Guard and all kinds of military people out here, supporting the community and picking up the mess it had left."

— Kevin Wilson

  • • •

Joe Griego was at home on Louisiana Street watching television when he heard a tornado was headed straight for his house.

"I gathered up my family and we jumped in the pickup truck and headed north, to my son-in-law's house. The tornado was right behind us. We came back that evening and it looked a like a war zone. The patio was piled four feet high with debris. There were couches and stoves all over the road. Our house had some damage, but our neighbor's house and the one across the street were destroyed. We spent the night at my son-in-law's house."

— Tonjia Rolan

  • • •

Christian Heller of Clovis remembers a pretty normal day until weather reports came in about super cells building and possible tornado watches and warnings. He and his family congregated in the living room after making sure they had emergency supplies, like flashlights and candles.

He periodically went outside to observe the weather. The winds kept changing directions and could hear the rumbles.

"I watched the tornado pass only about a quarter of a mile from our home, then I went inside to let the family know. We lit some candles and turned on our FM radio, but found nothing on the air.

"The kids were excited and thirsty, so I decided to head out and my daughter-in-law Tammie tagged along. I was working at Love's Truck Stop at the time, so we went out there. We drove east on Brady and crossed some downed wire, but made it there safely.

"On our way home, we went down Mabry and saw the damage. Plenty of damage was visible at Dairy Queen, and the auto parts store was in terrible shape.

"We got to the Prince Street overpass, and encountered a road block. Then we had to move our route to Seventh Street due to flooding. We got to the Hull Street overpass and I thought, "Yes, almost home."

"Nope. Police officers were directing traffic at Brady and Hull. I told the officer we didn't live far from there, but he said in no uncertain terms, 'You turn right, or you go to jail.'

"We went west down to Martin Luther King, turned a left and headed towards Kimberly Lane.

It took about two hours to get those sodas."

— Kevin Wilson

  • • •

Idaho transplant Marla French remembers getting text from a friend who live in Portales wondering where she was. She replayed she was heading back to Clovis and from her sister's house in Portales. On the way she got a text message that read: "Go back to your sister's house. There was a tornado that hit Clovis where you live."

Her phone started going crazy with text messages. When she got back to her sister's she said they just saw the report that the tornado touched down. They listened to the radio through the night, and most of the next day, because she couldn't get to Clovis.

She texted one of her text friends and ask if they could just drive by her house. They replied, "Your living room window is gone."

"We were able to get back; we had to take the back way along Cannon. It was probably 3:30, 4 p.m. by the time we got home on that Saturday. My brother-in-law is a welder, so we brought over tarps and sheet metal and put it over our back windows.

"We saw a horse trough, one of those giant ones with 100 gallons of water, in the street. We were wondering where that came from. We figured out later that it went over my roof, because there was a break in the roof that was that size and circular. We think it basically cartwheeled over my house.

The storm soaked carpets with glass, water and debris. The people that lived across the street from her had the roof from their shed taken off; it landed in her yard. They had to replace the power pole, so she didn't have power for a long time.

She stayed at a friend's house for a week and her sister's the following week.

"What I do remember the most is that the Monday after this all happened, I came home from work to check on the house, and my sister was here trying to clean up. There was a team of about six Cannon Air Force Base personnel. They were taking all of the large debris out of my yard. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get it out with my tiny car.

"The outpouring from this community was amazing. People who didn't know me were stopping by and saying, 'Hey, is there anything you need?' Being from a tiny community in Idaho, it reminded me of home."

— Kevin Wilson

  • • •

Logan Village Manager Larry Wallin said the tornado struck without warning. It appeared right out of the river. In hindsight it could have been worse, he said.

"The school was empty and the residents of the trailer park it struck the worst were still at work," Wallin said.

Wallin said looking back on that day the clouds looked strange and you could feel something in the air.

"It struck so quickly, yet did so much damage in the short time it was on the ground," Wallin said.

Wallin said with the help of several surrounding communities the cleanup of debris went quickly.

"We cleaned up and rebuilt and moved on," Wallin said.

— Thomas Garcia

  • • •

Michael Stephens, 28, owner of Cresent City Builders, was at home on County Road C near Cannon Air Force when the tornado hit. He received a call from his grandfather, who said his house in the 1500 block of Clairmont was hit bad. Stephens drove to town with his wife Andrea and son Lukas.

"When we were coming to town the tornado was probably a little north of town. The sky was black and it was raining and lightning real bad. It was kind of nerve-wracking because you didn't know if another one was coming or if you were going to drive into the tornado.

"I think my grandparents were watching TV and heard the sirens and heard on the radio that a tornado was coming so they got into the bathroom. All they heard was like a freight train coming through. Whenever they didn't hear the noise anymore my grandfather looked outside and heard people saying their house got tore up.

"All the shingles flew off of my grandfather's roof. Some trees in the yard were knocked over. The house across the street got completely picked up and moved. They had to tear the whole house down and rebuild it.

"I was kind of freaked out because the house across from my grandfather's was completely demolished. I was like wow, how could his house not get torn down but his neighbor's get completely torn down."

Stephens said he worked with his grandfather for about three weeks to repair the house. He said all new shingles, a good amount of decking and many insulation replacements were required. They also replanted three trees and replaced the pool house solar panels. Stephens estimated the repairs at about $15,000.

— Benna Sayyed

  • • •

Stephanie White, 27, a local cosmetologist, was at her house in the 2800 block of Holmberg Drive with her two sons, Jadyn, 7, and Joe Kyle, 5, when the tornado hit. White said she heard a loud locomotive sound and sat in the bottom of her coat closet with her children.

"When I heard the locomotive sound it was just panic and shock. I've watched tornado shows all the time, but we've always been very fortunate around here. I remember they had a fast pitch softball tournament going on at the high school softball fields. I remember hearing the tornado sirens going off and could hear them screaming down at the games. I really didn't pay much attention to the sirens because I thought surely if they were having games it wasn't that serious."

"We sat in the coat closet for what seemed like forever. Getting two babies to sit in there in the dark was quite a chore. I remember getting really panicked and starting to freak out. My phone wouldn't work. I could not get a hold of my mom and dad. So I called my in-laws at the time and my father-in-law came over and picked us up.

"As we were driving across town, the area where Yucca Middle School is, I just remember seeing sparks where the power lines were popping and blowing up. You could just see debris everywhere. I later learned that a lot of the air conditioner units from the school were found in people's yards.

"I could see a lot of strong sideways rain and hail. After it all happened we drove through that part of town that got hit and it was just completely annihilated. I remember two houses in particular that were just wiped clean to the ground. The school was completely messed up. One tree had actually fallen into a lady's house off of 21st Street. My heart broke for those people because they lost pretty much everything."

— Benna Sayyed

  • • •

Mike Mitchell, 56, owner of Grande Vida Dairy, was in his milking parlor when the tornado hit. He found shelter between two 6,000-gallon milk tanks. He weathered the storm alone.

"It was getting dark and raining and you couldn't hardly see anything. It hit the other end of the barn and you could hear the metal ripping off. It was a really loud screaming sound. You just think about hanging on. It actually came back again and hit a second time about three or four minutes after the first one."

Mitchell said he lost or had to put down 76 cows on-site and cows continued to die for a month. He lost a total of 350 cows. Mitchell said he could not milk at the dairy after the tornado. He said his work vehicles — one jeep and four pickup trucks — were damaged beyond repair.

Mitchell said people from Clovis, Portales, Dora, Elida and west Texas helped him move the 900 living cows to a new facility in the Arch community.

"The people were real good to come help us move the cows. A couple hundred people came and helped us. The community was real kind to us afterward. The service that picks up dead cows worked overtime and came in on Sunday and helped us get them out."

— Benna Sayyed

  • • •

Portales City Manager Tom Howell remembers being grateful the tornado skipped over Portales, then scrambling to offer aid to Clovis.

"The first thing I thought about was 'thank the Lord it didn't hit us.' The one effect it had on us is that it came across the well fields so we lost some power there and we had to make some adjustments to make sure we didn't run out of water but that was something that we took care of pretty easily.

"We coordinated with the city of Clovis with some of our equipment to help them during the cleanup. We were there to help them get back on their feet and I think we gave them as much as we could."

— Christina Calloway

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