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County to file for emergency declaration after tornadoes

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A house in the 400 block of First Street in Dexter with a gaping hole in its roof. The house was one of several structures that sustained damage after tornadoes briefly touched down in Dexter and Hagerman Tuesday night. (Alex Ross Photo)

Chaves County will file an emergency declaration with the state, to help free up assistance for Dexter and Hagerman which were devastated by tornadoes Tuesday night. 

The county will file the declaration which will then go to the state to free up resources for communities and possibly residents whose property sustained damage from the tornadoes. If the dollar amount of damage is high enough, the communities might be eligible for a federal disaster declaration that could mean greater assistance. 

“We are here to take care of our folks and I know the state is looking out for us, also, and I know the rest of the nation is paying attention to what is happening here in Chaves County and in Dexter and Hagerman,” Will Cavin, chair of Chaves County Board of Commissioners, said at a press briefing Wednesday morning.

In a press release from the the House Republican caucus in the New Mexico House of representatives, local lawmakers stated they support an emergency declaration.

“We will support local leaders in any way to ensure state resources are available to help. This is when our community steps up and helps their neighbors who have been hit the hardest,” state Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, whose district includes Chaves County, said in the release.

Local Roswell Representatives Greg Nibert and Phelps Anderson and House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia also expressed their support in the release.

The communities of Dexter and Hagerman began to recovery efforts Wednesday after a pair of tornadoes touched down Tuesday night at about 5:55 p.m. and transformed the two small agricultural communities.

The tornadoes developed southwest of Dexter and Hagerman and then dissipated on the southwestern edge of Dexter, Todd Shoemaker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said Wednesday afternoon.

Crews from the National Weather Service are still accessing the damage, but Shoemaker said that as of Wednesday afternoon, the tornadoes were on the ground for no more than 10 minutes. It is believed winds from the tornadoes moved at 110 to 135 miles per hour, he added.

No fatalities were reported as a result of the tornado, though five people were hospitalized with what Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington described as non-life threatening injuries.

“What a blessing that we did not have any fatalities and that we have only minor injuries after such a disaster,” Cavin said.

Several vehicle accidents were reported Tuesday around the time of the tornadoes, due to high winds propelling structures, trees and other objects blowing into the streets, Herrington said.

No injuries were reported as a result of the accidents.

Throughout Dexter, evidence of the tornadoes that ripped through the downtown area were on display, with debris scattered throughout the streets and gaping holes where roofs had been torn from houses.

Antonio Regalado, a Dexter resident, had his trailer home crushed by the fierce winds Tuesday night.

“It’s pretty much destroyed,” he said.

Regalado said he was not in his home when the tornado hit, but was at his parents’ residence at the time. Though shocked, he said it could have been worse.

“It could have been a lot worse, just glad to be alive,” he said.

Other structures throughout the town were also damaged including barns.

Herrington said at the briefing that about 150 cows at dairies had sustained injuries from blunt objects that flew through the air and had to be put down.

Along back roads, some large sprinkler systems were seen overturned, and some street signs were uprooted. The recovery effort began with front-end loaders and flatbed trucks within the community.

As of Wednesday, most streets in and out of Dexter continued to be blocked off, including Elford Avenue, where many houses were damaged, if not destroyed.

Herrington said residents who had been forced by the weather to leave their homes would not be allowed back due to the presence of downed electrical wires and flying debris caused by winds of up to 75 miles per hour that could lead to more injuries.

“The best advice we can give them is because of the wind, everything is unstable and we don’t want to have to go in and take out another casualty based on being struck by debris,” Herrington said.

He added that in addition to Chaves County deputies and the Dexter Police Department, officers from departments in other communities would have a presence to deter anyone from stealing from homes.

Electricity had gone out throughout Dexter and Hagerman Tuesday night, but Hagerman Police Chief Rachelle Bateman said at the briefing, power had been fully restored in Hagerman and only a few remained without power in Dexter.

An outage map on the Xcel website showed that as of 8 p.m. Wednesday that five customers in Dexter were still without electricity. Trucks from Xcel Energy could be seen fixing downed wires in the downtown area.

Bateman said Hagerman also had running water again.

Reports Tuesday night indicated the town’s water system was destroyed, but Bateman said the system is still intact. She said the water problems stemmed from the lack of electricity needed to pump the water.

A shelter has been set up by the New Mexico chapter of the American Red Cross, with the help of Church on the Move out of Roswell, Bateman said.

The shelter had initially been planned to be stationed at a gymnasium at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, but was changed Wednesday morning.

Bateman said at the briefing that the shelter was moved to the Lindell Andrew Community Center in Hagerman. The center is located at 501 E. Argyle St.

The shelter is open to residents without power, and those impacted by the tornado.

A press release from the New Mexico Red Cross said caseworkers are present at the shelter with all residents to assist with their recovery.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.