Jose Francisco Contreras and his wife were driving to the bus he takes to his job at a factory in northern Mexico when the winds picked up and torrential rain began to fall.
They tried to turn around and flee, but their car was lifted by a howling tornado and flung about 650 feet (200 meters) to land on its roof in a grassy plaza. Airborne bricks and concrete blocks made loud bangs as they pummeled the vehicle.
“We were spinning around in the air, like four times,” Contreras said. His wife, Araceli Alcala, said she “was terrified.”
Contreras broke his ankle trying to kick their way out of the car, but both survived the sudden, devastating twister in Ciudad Acuna that killed 13 people, including a baby boy and destroyed more than 200 homes.
The child’s body was found amid the rubble of shattered houses in the city across the border from Del Rio, Texas, Ciudad Acuna Mayor Evaristo Perez said Tuesday.
Neighbor Angelica Elizabeth Garcia said the 11-month-old identified as Osvaldo Govea was being dropped off at his grandmother’s house when the tornado ripped him and his mother from their car. Garcia spoke after attending a funeral for the boy and two of his relatives who also died. The mother suffered a punctured lung and was in the hospital.
The tornado that touched down early Monday also injured about 300 people and damaged about 800 homes, affecting some 4,000 residents. Some of the houses were reduced to mounds of cinderblock and rubble, making the search more difficult.
Gerardo Aguinaga and his sister, Perla Isabel, stood in front of a concrete slab where the family’s home and taco business once stood.
The house had been flattened by the storm, and bulldozers were sent in Tuesday to clear the rubble and allow the family to salvage any possessions. Gerardo was able to find only his stepfather’s wallet and a pair of mismatched shoes.
“I don’t have papers, I don’t”ave anything. There are a lot of people who lost everything,” said Perla Isabel Aguinaga. “We have no place to live.”
Their stepfather, Edgar Gerardo Gonzalez, 37, their mother, Alma Isabel Galindo Chavez, and Perla’s 5-year-old son, Bryan, were in the house when the twister hit.
Galindo and Bryan hid under a bed as the building collapsed around them. Their truck ended up on the roof of a nearby home. She survived with back injuries and bruises, and Bryan suffered gashes to his head.
But the stepfather was standing at the back of the house, leaning against a wall that fell on him, injuring him more seriously. Despite his wounds, the stepfather managed to dig himself out, rescue his wife and the boy and take them to a neighbor’s house.
“Whenever I close my eyes, I see what happened,” Galindo said a day after the storm.
Four adjacent houses also were flattened. In several, the only things left standing were the bathrooms, precisely the place where Mexican authorities advise people to take shelter in storms.
President Enrique Pena Nieto toured the area to survey damage and help coordinate rescue efforts. Bulldozers and cranes worked to move rubble, fallen light posts and crumpled cars.
Questions began to center on the lack of any warning system, though tornados are infrequent in Mexico and officials said this one struck too quickly to give much warning
The last major tornado hit to the southeast of Ciudad Acuna in 2007 in the nearby border city of Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas, killing three people.
After escaping the vehicle Monday, Contreras lay on the ground nearby until some people in a truck appeared to take him and his wife home. On Tuesday he sat, still rattled and with a cast on his ankle, outside their now-windowless house.
He hasn’t gone back to see the car, but his wife did.
“It was totally crushed,” Alcala said.
(Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report from Mexico City.)
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