Residents recall deadly 2007 tornado

Alisa Boswell

It’s tornado season in eastern New Mexico and memories are still fresh for some who survived a March 2007 twister that killed two in Clovis and damaged more than 500 homes and businesses.

Clovis Police Department Community Relations Officer Daron Roach was among the first to respond during the March 2007 tornado.

“There was debris everywhere, tree limbs and parts of houses,” Roach said. “I continued south to see how far the damage had gone and it was all along highway 70.”

Roach said he was astounded at the amount of damage a tornado could inflict so quickly. He said the whole of the police department worked non-stop, checking houses and digging through debris for the next two days.

“My first thought was is my family OK,” Roach said. “After that, I have a duty to act as an officer, so the second most important thing was to get down there to the affected area and help people with homes there.”

Roach said his family lived on the south side of town and he was not able to talk to them for six hours after the tornado hit. He said it was not until he went home the next day for a brief shower and change that he learned the tornado had hit five houses near his home.

“When a tornado occurs, first priority is to make sure you’re in a safe location and remain there until it’s over,” Roach said. “Another thing is to have a good evacuation plan for your family. And if you’re not affected, stay out of the affected area.”

Grande Vida Dairy owner Mike Mitchell also remembers the March 2007 twister because it hit his dairy only four months after it had opened, killing 76 cows and injuring more than 200 others.

Mitchell said learned about the storm in a phone call from his daughter. He decided to take shelter in the hallway of the dairy barn between two milk bulk tanks.

“When I came out of the barn, it was kind of a state of shock,” Mitchell said. “There was sheet metal and other debris everywhere. I was pretty grateful everyone was gone before it hit.”

Mitchell said he believes the hallway he stayed in saved his life, because the tornado came through a second time and the barn was destroyed. He said he would recommend anyone in a tornado immediately take cover in a small area away from windows.

Portales Emergency Management Director Keith Wattenbarger said the most important thing for any resident to do is to make an emergency plan in case of a tornado or other emergency.

“Just a few minutes of planning will save you a lot of heartache,” Wattenbarger said. “You have to constantly reinforce your plan, especially with young kids. The kids need to understand the full impact of it and that they need to take it seriously.”

Wattenbarger said an emergency plan should entail an escape route, a place to go stay and an emergency kit with various supplies, such as food, water, clothes, and a flashlight.

He also said anyone living in a mobile home or trailer should leave immediately and go to a neighbor or relatives house for safety. When in a grounded home, a person should go to the center of the house and stay low and away from windows and doors, he said.

“It’s really important for folks to have a plan before… and know what they’re going to do,” Wattenbarger said. “The most important thing is be ready before the event. In tornadoes, the most important thing to do is to not get out and drive around.”