May 23, 1987 – What was once the west Texas town of Saragosa was now a pile of rubble after a tornado ripped through the town, killing at least 33 and injuring 115 people. The toll was expected to rise. The Saragosa tornado was actually a well-predicted event: a severe thunderstorm watch had been issued for Reeves County at 3:45pm CDT, followed by a tornado warning at 7:54pm CDT that evening – at least 21 minutes prior to the violent tornado hitting the community of Saragosa. Local storm spotter TV and radio stations based in Midland, Odessa and Pecos rebroadcast the warnings in Spanish and English, but many residents in the affected region (over 100 miles to the southwest) did not receive them. The town was not equipped with a siren, did not have its own police or firefighters, and as many as 50% of residents did not own their own TV or radio; those who did generally preferred Spanish-language stations based in Mexico (which did not provide weather alerts).
Ultimately, the town’s first awareness of the danger came when a parent (arriving late for the graduation ceremony) visually spotted the tornado bearing down on Saragosa from the west and interrupted the ceremony to give warning in Spanish. The crowd of children and their respective families, estimated to be about 100 people—or about 25% of Saragosa’s total population at the time—immediately took cover. As the only concrete block building in town, the town hall/community center would have been considered a relatively safe haven under such circumstances, but it was unable to withstand a direct hit from a violent F4 tornado, collapsing with the loss of 22 lives, a fatality rate of roughly 22% (not uncommon for F4 tornadoes). Still, many local residents believed the timing of the tornado to be a miracle, as it concentrated the town’s children in the most robust building in town instead of leaving them to shelter in the dilapidated shotgun shacks which comprised most of the housing in Saragosa (where they would have had no protection at all).
There was other news – The New York Times was quoting an unidentified American official’s report that investigators would be permitted to question the Iraqi pilot whose missile attack on the USS Stark left 37 sailors dead. A team of Senators was leaving for Bahrain to investigate the incident.
And the auction hammer was dropping on deposed televangelist Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s estate this day. A 7′ copper and brass giraffe that once graced the living room was just one of several dubious items going up for auction. Financially strapped PTL was trying to raise at least $1 million from this auction which included many crystal items the Bakkers had bought with Church funds, along with Tammy’s massive collection of Teddy Bears, a baby grand piano, Jim Bakker’s gold bathroom fixtures and the air-conditioned doghouse for the family pets. Other auctions were planned which included Jim Bakker’s Rolls Royce’s. PTL officials said they had located $80 million of the $92 million that auditors had listed as “unaccounted for”. They were still searching for the remaining $12 million in funds that were donated to the ministry.
All that, and much-much more for this May 23, 1987 as presented by The CBS World News Roundup.