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Tiny West Texas town recalls massive tornado on 30th anniversary

Dozens killed when twister hit Saragosa

SARAGOSA, Texas – Monday marked 30 years since a small town in West Texas was destroyed when a massive tornado hit.

The numbers were staggering: 200 mph winds hit Saragosa – killing 30 and injuring more than 100 people. Most of those killed were inside a community center for a Head Start graduation.

Amongst the wide open space of West Texas, few expected what was coming that day.

"They were graduating and my brother was going to hand out diplomas," Debbie Flores said.

Her brother, Joey Herrera, survived the twister.

He was leading the preschool graduation that evening. Inside an estimated 100 people packed inside to watch the event, half of them children.

With little time to prepare, "somebody ran inside the building and said a tornado was coming," Flores said. "They got the children and the women all under tables, trying to protect them."

Of the 30 deaths, 22 occurred inside Saragosa Hall. Herrera’s wife and son, Elsa and Jonathan – were among those killed. The newborn was just two days shy of his first birthday.

Three decades later, the walls where the community center once stood are still visible. Though completely made of concrete, the winds were so strong that night the building collapsed.

Longtime resident Jim Gallego still calls the small town home and recalled the horror.

"It just caught us by surprise," he said.

While warnings were issued, few in the town received them.

Gallego's family opted to take refuge underneath a small bridge.

"It still sucked us out,” Gallego said. “We got all hurt, cut up."

But everyone survived.

Gallego said if felt as if the storm lasted for 30 minutes, “but apparently it was just three or four minutes."

In that short amount of time, the tornado turned the town to rubble.

Changes came after the storm hit. A tornado siren sits in the middle of town. 

The new community center was built with a large shelter and in front sits a memorial, listing all those who lost their life that night.

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