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COVER


A statewide mutual aid system approved a decade ago allowed other counties, including Garland County, and cities to aid Faulkner County.


hearing 911 reports of people lodged under debris, crushed behind shelter doors, bleeding from flying timber and holed up under staircases in the River Plantation subdivision west of his town. A swath of elegant brick homes there had been reduced to ruins. Tere were casualties already, too, just as there were all along hard-hit Dam Road beside Lake Conway. And disoriented residents were wandering around in shock, searching for their homes, kin and belongings in the rain as dark descended over the landscape with no electricity or cell phone service anywhere — except in City Hall and the Emergency Operations Center. Rosinni didn’t go to sleep for the next 24 hours. Neither did McGhee and several others at the Operations Center who would log more than 100 hours in the next five days. Teir first task was relaying crisis alerts to all of the other jurisdictions in the predicted trajectory of this dark, angry column. “We [trained emergency managers all over the county] all had our


Weathernet [high powered satellite] radios, so we could keep talking to each other on a single channel as we kept an eye on the path of the storm,” McGhee said. Te actual route of destruction was made clear by the waves of 911 calls that poured in from first one area and then another. McGhee’s team then moved seamlessly into their targeted response mode, notifying water and utility companies, contacting teams of medical, security and law enforcement workers standing by, and finding equipment, including backhoes and bulldozers to clear the roads where callers reported that people were trapped or injured. Within minutes first responders were racing to the hardest hit areas, making way for utility trucks to tend to gas and electrical hazards. Next to get there were search and rescue vehicles, fire trucks, dump trucks and ambulances to extract people suffering from everything from collapsed


COUNTY LINES, SUMMER 2014


lungs and gouged heads to fractured ribs and broken hips. More than 100 people were rushed to Conway Hospital before the night was over, while rescue teams continued to look for the missing and dead, sending regular reports of the heartbreaking scene back to McGhee. Red Cross volunteers moved in quickly, too, to open shelters for those with no place to sleep or even any way to get to friends or family, their mangled cars strewn across the terrain like contorted Matchbox toys. “I think we did better at everything this time,” McGhee said of her operations center’s response compared to tornados in the past. “One thing that really helped is that Dodson is such a take-charge leader and such an advocate of preparedness.” You could hardly blame him. Less than two months after he was appointed county judge in early 2013 an underground Exxon pipeline burst in Mayflower, forcing widespread evacuations, fears of toxic expo- sure and months of cleanup. By sheer chance, however, just weeks before this tornado, Dodson had called together everyone around the county involved in emergency response for a series of storm readiness dialogues and refresher training. “We put together ‘go-to bags’ of personal supplies, food, water and batteries so we could each be self-sustaining for several days out there if necessary,” McGhee said. “We made sure everyone knew how to use the radios, which I had all cleaned, and we practiced. Little things, maybe, but if you can’t communicate you can’t tell someone, ‘hey we need something over here.’” Te exercise paid off. In the end there was only one house fire in the whole tornado path, Rosinni said. Te official death toll was 16, includ- ing a baby declared stillborn after the mother was critically injured.


See “TORNADO” on Page 32 >>> 31


STORY


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