Last tornado not nearly as damaging

By David Stevens: FNNM Editor

The March 23 tornado that ripped through southeast Clovis wasn’t the city’s first, but it was by far the most damaging in about 75 years of record keeping.

Officials said one person was killed, 35 people were injured, about 100 homes and businesses were destroyed and close to 500 structures were damaged by the recent twister.

Before that, Clovis’ most damaging tornado occurred on Sept. 17, 1944. That one destroyed eight homes and injured seven people, according to newspaper archives and www.tornadoproject.com, a Web site that records tornado statistics.

The 1944 tornado did most of its damage on what was then the city’s east side, the Clovis News-Journal reported. It was first spotted on Mitchell Street, then traveled east before unleashing most of its terror near the 500 blocks of Oak, Lea and Maple streets. Those same areas were hit hard again March 23.

• Curry County has recorded five F2 tornadoes since records have been kept — on June 10, 1932, Sept. 17, 1944, May 24, 1957, June 11, 1964, and on March 23 of this year. 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.

• Roosevelt County has recorded two F3 tornadoes in its history — in 1939 and 1949. No one was injured in either storm. An F3 includes wind speeds 158 to 206 mph.

• Curry County has been hit by tornadoes 49 times since 1932.

• Eastern New Mexico has seen only one death related to a tornado. That occurred Tuesday, when Heleneta Blevins, 90, died from injuries she suffered in the March 23 storm.

• Curry County had recorded only 10 tornado-related injuries prior to March 23, when officials said 35 people were hurt. Seven Clovis residents were hurt in 1944, two county residents were injured in 1932 and one was injured in 1964.

• Prior to March 23, the last 15 tornadoes to hit Curry County were rated F0, meaning wind speeds were less than 73 mph.

• Before March 23, Curry County’s most recent tornadoes occurred on June 4, 2003. Four were recorded between 5:10 p.m. and 6:59 p.m. that evening and all were rated F0. One was reported near Melrose, two near Cannon Air Force Base, and one near Clovis. No injuries were reported from any of the four.

Sources: National Weather Service and www.tornadoproject.com.
Records date to 1932 in Curry County.

One woman suffered a lacerated scalp and possible back injury when the roof of her home at 501 Oak was blown off in the 1944 storm. A 3- or 4-year-old boy — the newspaper gave both ages in different accounts — suffered a broken arm when a stove fell on him inside his home at 506 Oak. One other small boy received cuts on his face from flying glass, eight small homes were demolished and other structures were “partially wrecked,” the newspaper reported.

Wilma Fulgham was 13 when the twister destroyed a shed outside her family’s home at Fifth and Lea. The shed housed a horse named Star.
“It lifted (the shed) up in the air and just knocked her down, but didn’t hurt (the horse),” Fulgham recalled last week. “It tore that shed up and scattered my saddle, blanket and everything for several blocks.”

Fulgham said the twister also tossed her mother’s canned fruit into a neighboring lot, “but didn’t break a jar.”

Ira Brown’s rent house at 515 Lea lost its roof in the violence early that Sunday evening.

Fulgham said she did not remember seeing a funnel from the clouds, but remembers “the clouds looked like they were boiling.”

The newspaper reported Mrs. Euel Smith did see it coming, over Hotel Clovis and down Main Street. “I noticed cars parked on Main shaking and then I looked up and saw the whitish, funnel-shaped cloud spewing and whirling. I thought for a minute it was going to take the hotel with it,” she said.

It didn’t, but a city lumber yard sustained about $5,000 in damages, and numerous trees were uprooted or otherwise destroyed across town.