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Dexter begins cleanup after tornado

Cleanup continues from the storms as a piece of construction equipment heads toward a mobile home east of Elford Street in Dexter on Thursday morning, which was damaged in Tuesday evening’s tornadoes. (Alex Ross Photo)

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Two days after a tornado ripped through the streets of downtown Dexter, residents and volunteers were out in force to begin accessing the damage and cleaning up the ruins.

“Right now, everything is accounted for and we are in the process of cleaning up the debris and stuff,” said James Salas, chief executive fire officer for Dexter.

Salas said electricity was fully restored in Hagerman and Dexter, with much of it coming back on hours after the tornado died down Tuesday night, but property owners had been barred Wednesday from returning to their homes due to dangers posed by downed electrical wires and blunt objects that were tossed about by winds of up to 75 miles per hour.

By Thursday morning, however, people were allowed to return to their properties, and many were seen surveying the damage and sifting through the remnants of their homes.

Francisca Granado was among those who had been helping gather twisted metal, shattered lumber and other broken objects in her 84-year-old mother’s yard at the 400 block of First Street Thursday morning.

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The house Granado had grown up in, which her mother owned since 1970, had much of its roof missing, a side and back porch both caved in and Granado’s car was buried beneath the remnants of a crushed fifth-wheel trailer.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking because we’ve had memorable moments here,” said Giovanni Fajardo, 9, and the great-grandson of the homeowner.

Giovanni, his 8-year-old brother Jackson, Granado and her mother were in the living room of the house Tuesday night when the tornado ripped through the yard.

Granado said when the tornado hit, they heard heavy wind followed by a loud bang and then the tornado was gone.

Teresa Maldonado, a local teacher, was out in the yard of her mother’s house east of Elford Street, an area replete with collapsed structures.

Though the house remained untouched, other weaker structures were collapsed or broken on the property including an abandoned house and a carport.

“There were more structures here and all of that is gone,” Maldonado said.

She said given Dexter’s small size, everyone has been affected by the tornado in some way. Maldonado said the homes of some of her students were destroyed.

“It’s a small town, we all know each other,” she said. Though Dexter has been affected, she said the people in the town will bounce back from the tornado.

“It’s not going to be the same of course, but we can try,” Maldonado said.

Roads in and outside of Dexter were closed off to non-residents Wednesday, though access was largely restored by late Thursday morning.

Some roads, such as Elford Street, remained blocked off by police units as construction equipment scooped up fallen tree limbs and copious amounts of shattered roof panels and fence planks.

Employees from the New Mexico Department of Transportation, along with scores of volunteers, patrolled the streets, helping with cleanup.

Chad Hamill, chief of the Hagerman Fire Department, said several organizations including cadets from New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe, inmates from the Roswell Correctional Center, various church groups and the New Mexico Chapter of the American Red Cross were in Dexter to help with the recovery.

A group of youth with the First Presbyterian Church of Dexter were among those out in the streets clearing scattered debris and distributing snacks and water. The group was working to make the best of the disaster that had transformed their town.

“It’s pretty bad and it sucks that it happened to us, but all we can do is hope for the best and help clean up,” said Haley Sopher, 13 and one of the volunteers.

Nancy Miles, a member of the church group who has lived in Dexter for 40 years said she is not surprised by the outpouring of support people have shown each other.

“This is a community that has deep roots and they want to help,” Miles said.

Two men from Capitan who did not know anyone in town were among the volunteers who made the journey down to Dexter to help, she said.

Besides homes, there were businesses, barns and other structures impacted by the tornado.

Will Cavin, chair of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, said he signed a resolution for a local emergency disaster declaration with the state for all areas of the county affected by either the tornadoes or the high winds that pounded the county Wednesday.

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

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