New Mexico Residents Still Recovering from March 2007 Tornado

January 3, 2008

Jim and Iris Blevins still think of their modest tan house surrounded by trees as their real home, but nowadays they live in a fifth-wheel behind the house — one of hundreds of eastern New Mexico homes damaged by tornadoes in March 2007.

The couple still are waiting for insurance money for repairs, and say the house is being damaged by water every time a storm moves through and water seeps through the tarp that won’t stay on because of eastern New Mexico’s common winds.

Every time Blevins steps out of the fifth-wheel, he’s reminded of the March 23 tornado that killed two residents, including his mother, 90-year-old Heleneta Blevins. She died March 27 of injuries she suffered when a tornado destroyed her mobile home, where she and Blevins had taken cover from winds of up to 125 mph.

“She was old, but she was neat,” the retired railroad worker said.

Still, Iris Blevins says, “We don’t ever consider ourselves victims when we compare ourselves to (victims of Hurricane) Katrina,” which hit New Orleans in August 2005.

Their four children arrived the day after the tornado to help in any way that they could. The Blevinses also recall the generosity of strangers, such as the man, “Cole from Canyon, Texas,” who baked cookies and hundreds of others who helped clear out what was left of their trees as well as car parts that had blown over from what used to be a body shop two buildings south of their lot.

City Manager Joe Thomas agrees it was a volunteer effort that helped the city recover as quickly as it did.

The storm system that spawned tornadoes hit Friday evening, and by Sunday afternoon most of the community was out in some way or another participating in the cleanup.

“I don’t think the city can take credit for putting it all together. It was just a neighbor helping neighbor response.”

Iris Blevins says she’s spent hours on the telephone with insurance company representatives, who have told the couple they must pay for the first $22,000 in repairs before the insurance kicks in — despite the face the couple had $204,000 of insurance on a home valued at $154,000.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will not step in because FEMA covers unmet expenses after all issues are resolved with insurance companies.

Jim Blevins estimates it will take six months to repair the house, which is solid and standing, although water has seeped through holes in the tarp.

Their family and friends still are watching out for them, nine months after the tornado.

And, Iris Blevins adds, “We know God is in control. It’s just the interim period that’s bad.”

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