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Power restored and recovery efforts continue after deadly Laguna Heights tornado

One of several cars destroyed in the EF1 tornado that struck Laguna Heights, Texas, on May 13, 2023.
Gaige Davila
/
TPR
One of several cars destroyed in the EF1 tornado that struck Laguna Heights, Texas, on May 13, 2023.

Residents in Laguna Heights, an unincorporated community outside of Port Isabel, continued on Monday to clean up after an EF1 tornado touched down early Saturday morning.

Some power was restored by Saturday night and into Sunday morning, giving residents a respite from 90 degree temperatures during the day and up to 90% humidity at night.

Cameron County Emergency Management went door to door in the neighborhood checking debris for survivors. No more deaths or injuries were reported.

Eleven people were injured and hospitalized, and one person, 41-year-old Robert Flores, was killed after a trailer landed on his home.

Taylor Avenue in Laguna Heights hours after the tornado struck.
Gaige Davila
/
TPR
Taylor Avenue in Laguna Heights hours after the tornado struck.

The tornado damaged up to 60 homes, some catastrophically, according to Cameron County Emergency Coordinator Tom Hushen.

Many homes destroyed in the storm were trailer homes or structures that were not up to code.

Around 40 people used the shelter provided by the City of Port Isabel. It was closed on Saturday night, and people displaced by the storm were transported to relatives' homes or to shelters in Brownsville.

Cameron County Constable Pct. 1 Norman Esquivel told TPR that “everyone [was] accounted for” by Saturday afternoon, after initial reports that people were missing immediately after the storm.

County Judge Eddie Trevino declared a local state of disaster for Laguna Heights, meaning state and federal resources can be used to aid recovery efforts.

Trevino also issued a curfew in Laguna Heights from sunset to sunrise until Tuesday morning. He said Laguna Heights residents are the only people allowed in the neighborhood during those times.

Laguna Heights resident Martin Rodriguez Jr. (right) observes damage on Van Buren Avenue with Port Isabel resident David Lee Zamora (left).
Gaige Davila
/
TPR
Laguna Heights resident Martin Rodriguez Jr. (right) observes damage on Van Buren Avenue with Port Isabel resident David Lee Zamora (left).

The tornado lasted five minutes. It touched down on the west side of Pennsylvania Avenue at 4:06 a.m., moving diagonally across the western portion of Laguna Heights before ending on the edge of Michigan Street, according to the National Weather Service’s damage survey.

National Weather Service Barry Goldsmith said during a press conference on Saturday that a warning was issued the same time the tornado touched down, giving residents no time to prepare.

“I woke up, and when I stood up that's when the house started shaking,” Laguna Heights resident Robert Maldonado told TPR. “The house started shaking and it was maybe less around 10 to 15 seconds. It wasn't long, but it was pretty hard.”

Laguna Heights residents inside of the Port Isabel Events and Cultural Center, the city's makeshift shelter immediately after the storm.
Gaige Davila
/
TPR
Laguna Heights residents inside of the Port Isabel Events and Cultural Center, the city's makeshift shelter immediately after the storm.

Maldonado’s house on Taylor Avenue was spared.

The tornado’s path would have likely done more damage to his home had it gone north instead of east.

The Laguna Madre area has experienced four major rainstorms in recent weeks.

The tornado capped a month of severe weather two weeks before the start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1.

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