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For Saragosans, New Homes Are Just Part Of Recovery Six Months Later

November 21, 1987

SARAGOSA, Texas (AP) _ Six-year-old Samantha Natividad sometimes remembers the woman who was like a second mother to her and asks her parents why her friend had to die.

But six months after a deadly tornado killed Ninfa Ontiveros and 29 others, Samantha’s parents, Braulia and Sammy Natividad, have no answers for her.

The May 22 storm that swept through this tiny unincorporated cotton-farming town destroyed the Natividads’ almost-completed new ranch house and the mobile home they were living in.

The tornado leveled the community center and church and destroyed 61 houses in the poor, mostly Hispanic West Texas town of about 250. What once had been houses were piles of sticks, adobe and twisted metal scattered near foundations.

″It was just a bare piece of ground with a lot of debris lying around,″ said George Harrison, a relief worker in charge of rebuilding the community center. ″It was just bare - no houses standing around or anything.″

Saragosa held too many bad memories, so the Natividads moved 10 miles away to Balmorhea. Samantha has found no replacement for Mrs. Ontiveros.

″Every once in a while, she’ll remember her and cry and ask us why it happened to (Mrs. Ontiveros). It was real hard for us to see her coming back there because she would have expected things to be the same. We just decided to relocate.″

But the Natividads are the exception. Most families decided to remain in the dusty pioneer railroad town 190 miles east of El Paso.

Now 23 new houses in various stages of construction are staggered along the two main dirt roads. The tornado shelter in the basement of the community center is almost finished. Government-provided mobile homes near the abandoned cotton gin north of town house displaced families.

″Saragosa is coming alive,″ said Manuel Galindo, rebuilding coordinator for the state Department of Community Affairs. ″People are anxious to get back in their homes.″

People also are slowly recovering from the loss of loved ones.

Jacob Sanchez, 14, was attending his 6-year-old sister Debra’s pre-school graduation at the community center when it was hit by the tornado. He was with his parents, Omero and Sylvestra Sanchez, and his sister Alexa, 12.

Jacob dragged himself out from under rubble and quickly found his sisters. But they couldn’t find their parents until rescuers lifted a wall that had crushed them.

″I got my sisters because I didn’t want them to see. I just left. I just started running out of there,″ Jacob said.

He said he is slowly getting over the tragedy, but talks about it only when someone else brings it up.

″I was sad,″ he said. ″My sisters and I, we’ve been real down. It happened all of a sudden. I started to forget about it, not think about it so much. At least I got my sisters.″

Jacob and his sisters are living with relatives in Balmorhea. But many families must wait patiently for their homes to be rebuilt.

Four families have moved into the replacement homes built by the Red Cross. At 18-by-24 feet, most of them are smaller than the modest ranch houses they replace.

After the Red Cross houses are finished, the Roman Catholic diocese will begin rebuilding rental houses, said the Rev. Daniel Rojas, the parish priest.

Rojas said he has lined up contractors who have promised to work fast.

″I feel by Christmas, everybody should be home,″ he said, adding that the diocese already has started rebuilding the church and plans to help Jose Candelas rebuild his grocery store.

By now, Elodia Garcia and her family are now able to sleep with the lights off. But 6-year-old Amy pays close attention to television weather forecasts.

Whenever there is a mention of tornadoes, Amy asks: ″Are they coming over here? Where are they?″ Mrs. Garcia said. She and her husband, Armando, get out maps to show her.

″We just try to act brave,″ Mrs. Garcia said.

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