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TORNADO


Te county coroner said he had expected more, considering the EF4 magnitude of this storm, the second strongest category of twister force, on a rampage that robbed 300 families of everything they had. It was up to Dodson, as chief executive of the most affected county, to officially declare the scene a national disaster qualifying for FEMA assis- tance. After that, he said, the close coordination of Faulkner’s resources with those of Lonoke, Conway, Cleburne, Perry and Van Buren counties became key. And that was only possible because of a statewide mutual aid system, approved by lawmakers just a decade ago, allowing counties and cities to help other jurisdictions in disasters, no matter the cost to their own taxpayers.


“Tis was just a terrific example of the benefit of making that permis-


sible,” he said. “Immediately I got calls from the other county judges, the very first being Doug Erwin in Lonoke, asking what we needed. We were at full deployment at that point, and we needed back hoes, chain saws, dump trucks, tractors, bobcats, you name it, to help clear a path. Tere was unbelievable destruction, unbelievable piles of debris. Te other road departments were a great resource. And MEMS [Metropoli- tan Emergency Medical Services ambulances subsidized by Faulkner County, Pulaski County and Maumelle taxes] was crucial.” County Coroner Pat Moore lost his own home near Vilonia to the tornado during the hours he and his seven deputies were tending to the fatalities. Yet he, too, echoed Dodson’s take on the extraordinary value for first responders, mentally and physically, of mutual aid. Five minutes after the tornado hit, he said, “eleven different coroners were texting me.” Without knowing the scope of damage at that point, he nevertheless knew he would have more than enough additional help if needed, which is important when most of the dead are found in their homes by distraught family members, he said. “We were able to do our job with dignity and respect and get it done without a hiccup,” Moore said. Only then could the debris-removal and cleanup really begin, but people, once they have processed what happened to them, always want it done as quickly as possible so they can put it behind them and go on with their lives, Vilonia Mayor James Firestone said. He knows. Tree years ago a twister battered the close-knit town he has lived in all of his 60 years, killing four residents and tossing roofs and fences around like matchsticks. It took Dodson a few days to assess the full extent of this disaster’s damage. By then it became clear to him that the quickest and most cost effective approach would be for the county to oversee all the cleanup us- ing mostly local government crews and equipment to clear the uprooted trees and mountains of drywall, shingles, carpet, pipes, furniture and, oh yes, 83 dead cattle. Firestone, a part-time mayor who also works for the Little Rock Port


Authority, still recalls the relief he felt when Dodson notified him that the county would take charge of it all. Managing the storm recovery three years ago had fallen entirely on his shoulders and it was backbreak- ing, he said. “But this was just so much more massive, whole sections of the town including older homes and landmarks [were flattened],” Firestone said, surveying the scene three months later. Driving around triggers head- shaking story after story of what used to be in this city where he knows literally everybody. He stops at a clearing of empty house slabs. “Now here, just think of it: Tere were 56 houses, I mean, sturdy, substantial houses, and only one left standing . . . Tat church over there had just built a new gym. Tat gas and service station, completely destroyed except for one back room . . . Here is what is left of our brand new middle school. Tat’s insulation flapping from those tower joists, every- thing else was wiped out . . . Tis little shopping center, it had a bank and the Cockadoodle Dough cookie shop. Gone. In here we had Mr.


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Fred’s donut shop, my little granddaughter’s favorite. Gone. Our park, five ball fields, light poles, fencing, concessions. All gone.” As he expected, it would be tougher for residents the second time


around to get the crumbled remains of their lives off their property and out in the street where county haulers could pick them up and take them to FEMA-approved dump sites. Tankfully organizations of vol- unteers like Team Rubicon, a veterans group, and the Arkansas Dream Center, an organization dedicated to helping hurting people, offered help for those people. “We could not have done it without them,” Dodson said. “And gradually we’re all coming back,” Firestone said as he pulled his


truck back into the parking lot of City Hall. Indeed the evidence is everywhere. Keith McCord has opened the mechanic shop portion of his gas station and has more business than he can handle. Another new school is already on the drawing boards. And plans are in place for a new, bigger ballpark. Recovery is visible in Mayflower, too, where the Lumber One hard-


ware store in the center of town and a metal works company appear back in full operation although the owners of True Value will retire instead. Major new construction and fixing up is underway along Dam Road. And in the River Plantation neighborhood you can’t help but admire people like Robin Sanders and her husband Tomas. Tey tore down their elegant waterfront home and set up a 39-foot motor home to live in while they design a replacement. Te idea is to move on, said Robin Sanders, who understands starting over after losing her first husband a few years ago. “My mom asked me if I cried at all, and I said ‘But our lives were


spared, and I know a lot of families whose were not.’” You sense that gratitude in practically everyone touched by the twister


whose resolve intensified when they saw how much other people wanted to help them, too. You sense that from the sign outside Mayflower’s Northside Apostolic Church that now reads: “All is well. And then some.” You also hear it when outsiders look in and are somehow reassured about humankind. “I could not be more impressed by the spirit of community that is


here,” President Barack Obama told officials in Vilonia when he visited a week after the disaster. “Te community has responded.”


Volunteers and donations are still needed to assist Arkansans affected by the April 27 tornado. Here are a few of the organizations that continue to aid victims:


Arkansas Dream Center www.ardreamcenter.tv/tornado/ (501) 232-0630


Arkansas Rice Depot


www.ricedepot.org (Click on “Disaster Relief”) (501) 565-8855


Faulkner County Long Term Recovery www.faulknerrelief.com


United Methodists of Arkansas www.arumc.org/arkansas_disaster_response COUNTY LINES, SUMMER 2014


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