Tragedy scars small Texas town
By Zenaida Gonzalez
NACOGDOCHES, Texas Tony Parry was in his mobile home in Etoile when he heard a thunderous crash.
With her cousin, Priscilla Garcia at her side, Elisa Nicole Garcia prays in a bank parking lot in Nacogdoches, where shuttle debris was found.
"It was a rolling rumble. I thought maybe it was a tornado. I couldn't walk very well because my trailer kept shaking," Parry said.
Throughout East Texas, on Highway 59 and Highway 103, among many, Parry and hundreds of others talked about the pieces of debris that rained about them Saturday morning.
"It was loud," said Polly Bailey of Huntington, Texas, just outside Lufkin. She was observing one piece of debris that was lying next to the road. "My daughter Crystal was at her grandma's in St. Augustine. I called immediately to find out that everyone was OK."
They were, but a 3-foot piece of dark metal had landed in the family backyard, Bailey said.
"It was scary, " Crystal said as she held her 3-month-old dog. "I didn't know what was happening."
Across six counties in Texas, and portions of Louisiana, residents had been flooding police agencies with reports of fallen debris that ranged in size from a half-inch to 7 feet.
A volunteer firefighter from the Lafayette County Volunteer Fire Department, who refused to give his name, said his team had found what appeared to be a cockpit from Columbia and "some remains."
More than 500 pieces of debris had been reported in Nacogdoches County alone. Finding some of the parts of the shuttle may prove difficult however since the stream of debris has fallen over portions of the Angelina National Forest, according to James Kroll of the Stephen F. Austin Forest Research Institute. Kroll has been tracking the particles on the global mapping system all weekend.
National Guard, the FBI, U.S. Navy, Department of Public Safety, the Nacogdoches Sheriff's Department, the U.S. Air Force, Texas Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages Task Force and all city and county departments are involved in the emergency management plan. NASA astronauts Greg Johnson and Mark Kelly also are here inspecting debris fragments.
More than 300 people assigned to 22 search teams were scouring portions of the national forest between St. Augustine and Lufkin, said St. Augustine City Manager Duke Lyons.
"Our job is to support these folks any way we can," Lyons said. "We have the command post here and people are working around the clock in there."
Among the searchers in the rugged and forested terrain were teams of volunteer firefighters, police officers, sheriff's deputies and a team of deputies on horseback. They joined the search about 2 p.m. Sunday. They are helping in areas where all-terrain vehicles can't access.
"The terrain is just too rough for vehicles," Lyons said.
Helicopters also are aiding in the search. "It's horrible," said Gloria Acosta of Lufkin. "It is so tragic and I wanted to do something to help.
Acosta said she almost crashed on the highway Sunday because she was so intent on looking for debris. "I just feel so helpless. I want to do something. I'll do anything to help give those families and our country some healing.
"And protecting those pieces is what I can do."
Most of the debris found along highways was unrecognizable. One metal piece found in Etoile Park appeared to have been white and folded in the middle, but now it had six burned holes marked by gold and silver tinge. A portion of the 2-1/2 foot piece was twisted and blackened apparently from heat.
Another piece found on a street corner in Nacogdoches appeared to have a metal strip with bolts attached. Underneath, two pieces of gray material that looked like honeycomb appeared burned at its jagged edges.
Nacogdoches officials said there are at least six sites where human remains had been found. Officials said the search will continue Monday.
Throughout Louisiana and Texas more discoveries of shuttle parts and human remains were being reported almost non-stop.
In Shreveport, La., Caddo Parish coroner Dr. George McCormick confirmed his office was receiving what was believed to be human remains of the victims. He said the remains were to be turned over to an Armed Services Forensic Pathologist for identification and analysis.
In Pineville, La., a piece of what appeared to be shuttle debris slammed into a resident's home. Ben Hurst said he didn't think much of the loud noise that came from his roof. He walked outside to find an unusual object. Hurst said he put the small object, which he described as green and heavy, in a bag. He said neighbors came by to look at the object, which did not seem to be made of metal.
In Douglass, Texas, an 18-inch piece of what appeared to be duct piping put a dent in the roof of a school. Debris also was found near the pitcher's mound of the baseball field and the track. Little orange flags marked every piece.
"We're just fortunate no one was injured by it," Principal Jay Tullos said as a technician carrying a remote Global Positioning System satellite backpack plotted some 24 pieces of debris that rained down on the 20-acre campus.