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Crews search wreckage from storms that killed 10 on Texas-Mexico border

Thursday, April 26, 2007

(Photo)
Ricardo Tijerina, center, and his family were escorted by a border patrol agent to his home in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday. A tornado swept through the area Tuesday night, killing at least 10 people.
(Eric Gay ~ Associated Press)
Lightning was blamed for an 11th death as the weather system plowed through the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys.

EAGLE PASS, Texas -- Dozens of search and rescue crews scoured the mangled remains of houses and trailer homes Wednesday for more victims of tornadoes that killed at least 10 people in this border community and its Mexican neighbor. An 11th victim died in Louisiana.

Twisters cut across a nearly 4-square-mile area in a rural community southeast of Eagle Pass on Tuesday night, destroying two empty elementary schools, a church, business and homes. Several mobile homes were still missing Wednesday as searchers with dogs went lot to lot.

A family of five -- a girl, her parents and two other relatives -- was killed when the winds blew their mobile home across the street and slammed it into Rosita Valley Elementary School.

"It was a whole family, and they were all together, probably like they were huddling," said police Officer Ezekiel Navjas, who arrived Tuesday night just as crews were pulling from the wreckage the body of the girl, believed to be about 5 years old.

"I've never seen nothing like this," he said, shaking his head as he walked down a dirt road lined with homes cut in half like doll houses and mesquite treetops torn from their trunks.

One of the dead was found in a house, and the other died after being taken to a San Antonio hospital, authorities said. More than 80 others were injured, and at least four remained in critical condition Wednesday.

Across the Rio Grande in Piedras Negras, three people were killed and 300 homes were damaged. About 1,000 people sought refuge in shelters in Piedras Negras, where 32 people were killed by a tornado three years ago.

Neither Eagle Pass nor Piedras Negras had a siren warning system like those used to help people evacuate ahead of the same storm when it flooded streets and peeled roofs off homes in North Texas. No injuries were reported there.

Lightning was blamed for an 11th death Wednesday as the huge weather system plowed through the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. The bolt started a fire near Shreveport, La., that killed a 101-year-old man, authorities and the man's family said.

The sprawling front also spun off tornadoes Tuesday in Oklahoma and Colorado, caused flooding in Iowa and Nebraska and piled snow more than a foot deep in the Rockies.

About 350 residents from Eagle Pass were in shelters and were being kept from their homes until rescuers could complete their search of the area. Search teams made up of police, firefighters, Border Patrol agents and National Guard soldiers were picking their way through homes, knocking on doors, calling out to residents and marking searched buildings with spray paint.

Eagle Pass resident Ricardo Tijerina, who rode out the twisters with his six children in a house near the school, said he saw the weather roll in and expected a typical spring storm.

"I saw some clouds, but I never imagined it was going to be that bad," said Tijerina, whose children, ages 5 to 15, crowded under their beds while he watched a neighbor's trailer roll off its foundation.

The tornado hit near Eagle Pass around 7 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. There were reports of another funnel cloud in Piedras Negras later that night, but it was unclear when or if it touched down.

Tijerina and another neighbor went out in the wind to make sure everyone in the neighbor's trailer was OK, but the family, with seven children, was not home, he said.

After the tornado passed, neighbors poured onto the darkened streets checking for anyone who needed help, said Eglanteina Alamillo, 20. "You could hear everyone was walking around and helping people get out of the trailers," she said.

Navjas said he and other rescuers worked as long as they could Tuesday night. He finally went home for a couple of hours of sleep after his flashlight went out around 4 a.m.

School was canceled Wednesday in Eagle Pass, a city of 26,000 about 150 miles southwest of San Antonio. Like most border towns, it is heavily dependent on its relationship with its Mexican neighbor. It also depends on revenue from the Kickapoo tribe's Lucky Eagle casino.

American Airlines canceled about 200 flights because of weather in Dallas, spokesman Billy Sanez said. The airline also diverted about 80 flights bound for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to other airports.

Ken Capps, vice president of public affairs at the Dallas airport, said the flight control tower was temporarily evacuated Tuesday night but the airport remained open. Weather canceled 160 of about 950 departing flights Tuesday, and cots were provided for stranded passengers, airport officials said.


Associated Press writers Matt Joyce and Terry Wallace in Dallas and Juan Montano in Piedras Negras, Mexico, contributed to this report.


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