A National Weather Service warning about tornadoes never aired on two primary media outlets in this South Texas border town before a violent storm arrived and killed seven people, officials said.
Questions now linger about why the alert – which would have advised residents of the looming danger – never reached the area’s cable television provider or its largest Spanish-language radio station.
“When we issued that warning, it should have immediately interrupted their broadcast,” said Bill Runyan, a data acquisition manager at the weather agency in New Braunfels. “Because it did not, it leads me to believe their equipment was faulty or their reception was interrupted.”
Time Warner Cable and radio station KEPS both subscribe to the weather service’s Emergency Alert System. Managers at both outlets said they never received the tornado warnings, one sent at 6:18 p.m. and another at 6:51 p.m.
One tornado struck at 7:01 p.m., cutting across a nearly 4-square-mile area and destroying businesses and schools.
The tornadoes April 24 left hundreds homeless and injured about 80 people near Eagle Pass. Another three people were killed by a storm in its twin Mexican city, Piedras Negras.
The broadcast failure possibly left residents even more unprepared, since neither either Eagle Pass or Piedras Negras had a siren warning system urging people to evacuate or take shelter.
“The only thing we were aware of was that rain was coming,” said Rosa De La Garza, station manager at KEPS. “The Emergency Alert system never gave us an alert.”
Eagle Pass has no local television with a network affiliation, meaning that many residents rely on San Antonio for their news. While warnings of extreme weather were discussed on evening newscasts, those not watching the news would have missed the report.
Eagle Pass fire chief Roy De La Cruz said he has no criticism of the weather agency.
“I don’t see how the people in Rosita Valley could have had more warning,” he said of the neighborhood where the tornado struck. “It was daylight. Everyone was outside. No one saw anything.”
A spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission said the agency will look into the alleged alert failure.
“We don’t have all the facts in this case, but we’ll be contacting the broadcasters to offer our assistance,” FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said.
U.S. Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, has asked President Bush to sign a federal emergency disaster declaration for Maverick County. Federal teams are surveying the damage, but were not expected to make recommendations to the President until next week.
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, www.mysa.com
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