By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Roosevelt County dairyman Mike Mitchell looked at home and relaxed this week as he drank a cup of coffee and munched a cinnamon roll in his office at Grande Vida Dairy.
Things were a lot different when I finally caught up to him in March of 2007, a day after a tornado wiped out his dairy.
He was obviously stressed and close to broken. He was trying to settle what was left of his herd into someone else’s dairy and he was worried about his family, employees and injured cows.
As incredible an act of God as the March 23, 2007, tornadoes were — the acts of kindness and caring that residents of eastern New Mexico bestowed on their hurting neighbors was even more incredible. If it had to happen, at least we live in a community where people care about others.
For several weekends after the tornado, people – from other dairy owners to Eastern New Mexico University football players to church groups – were at Grande Vida to help clean up.
Mike told me later that he thought they could be back to milking at Grande Vida in four months, but I thought that was a little optimistic considering the damage. The Mitchell’s were able to move their herd home in July.
In Clovis, the scale of the disaster was even greater. After driving through the city the Sunday after the tornado, I thought it might take years for things to look normal again.
Thousands of volunteers helped with the cleanup and I think that community effort is, no doubt, what made it possible for Clovis residents to gather their wits and begin the process of reconstructing their lives.
That night and the long weekend will be something I’ll always remember. Somehow, I knew the storm brewing in south Roosevelt County that Friday afternoon was different, and I went out to chase it.
Though we never got in the right location to photograph the tornado that evening, there are things about the storm I’ll never forget.
As we headed out the Dora Highway just before dark, the hail and intense rain we ran through is still easy to recall. I thought it was going to beat the roof off my truck.
After the storm went on toward Arch, we headed out the Clovis Highway and finally decided to turn back before we got to Cacahuate Road. I figured we needed to get back to the office and be ready to help the Clovis News Journal staff, because I knew the storm was going to hit Clovis head-on.
As we drove back to Portales an incredible gust-front swept across the highway from north to south — the opposite way in which the storm had been traveling and counter to the wind direction we had experienced all evening.
It was an eerie feeling as the wind drove rain, tumbleweeds and other debris across our path. I knew that wasn’t a good sign.
I didn’t get home until sunrise the next morning. But at least my home or business wasn’t in the tornado’s path. Other’s weren’t as fortunate.
The sun came out bright and clear the next day but the wounds on the community looked bad. Really bad.
Somehow, in a year’s time, most of what was destroyed has been resurrected by this Easter Sunday.
Faith and tenacity have hopefully won out for most of our neighbors.
Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481, ext. 33 or email: