Friday, May 07, 2010

TOP STORY > >FEMA sees damage here

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by tornadoes and storms last weekend could find out as early as next week whether or not the area qualifies for federal assistance, according to Kathy Zasimovich, Lonoke County deputy emergency manager.

Zasimovich and her boss, Jimmy DePriest, took representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and the state Department of Emergency Management on a damage-assessment tour Wednesday, where they surveyed damage to homes and businesses in the county southeast of Cabot.

“We are seeing what the extent of the damage is overall,” said FEMA public information officer Win Henderson. “We are here at the invitation of the state.”

All the photos and assessments will go to the governor’s office toward appealing for a federal-disaster declaration.

Gov. Mike Beebe last week named 10 counties, including Lonoke County, as disaster areas.

More than 100 homes and buildings in the county were damaged or destroyed by the storms.

For affected county residents to be eligible for federal assistance, the state as a whole must have about $3.4 million worth of uninsured personal property damage, according to Zasimovich.

Meanwhile, all residents can do is contact their insurance agents and continue with the cleanup, she said.

One stop the FEMA and SBA representatives made on their tour of Lonoke County was at the intersection of Hwy. 321 East and LeMay Road. Dewayne and Susan Covington and their sister-in-law Kim Covington were salvaging the belongings of Dewayne’s father’s shop and storage building, ripped apart by the twister.

The shop was not the only area Dewayne and Susan Covington were cleaning up. The tornado continued on its northeasterly path and struck a farm they lease from Dewayne’s parents Wayne and Phyllis Covington on Hwy. 321 North.

Susan Covington, a school nurse at Ward Central Elementary said, “The big hay barn is down, the calf barn is down and there’s damage to the dairy barn.”

The Covingtons had 100 head of cattle. When the storm neared the cows ran into the woods for cover. The cows were battered and bruised by the tornado. They have five horses, one had a laceration on its thigh.

“We have a bull that was injured. A two-by-four impaled his leg. He is being treated in an isolated area (from the rest of the herd),” Susan said.

She was still looking for 15 missing calves that were born only weeks ago.

She fears the missing calves washed away in a creek during the flash flooding.

Dewayne spoke about a pond on the farm near the woods where the cows took shelter.

“The tornado took all the oxygen out the water and killed off the catfish, bass and brim,” he said.

Susan said they have received meals and support from school employees and from Campground Grocery and Grill.

“People were trying to help wherever they saw a need. Neighbors came out to help and members of Oak Grove First Baptist Church brought sandwiches.

Dewayne said, “I’ve been impressed by how hard the power company (First Electric) has worked.”

Over on Hwy. 321 North, cattle rancher Doug Erwin was continuing to cut downed trees into logs. More than half the trees on his property were either snapped or uprooted.

The tornado totaled three of his barns and damaged the roof of his house. Less than a mile up the road Erwin lost the building he owned that was home to Destiny Cowboy Church, on 422 Hwy. 321 North.

His wife’s 13-year-old horse, a registered paint mare they had raised, had to be put down after it was injured by debris.

After the storm Erwin’s dog Millie, a border collie had to be rescued. Millie took shelter under an out-building. The tornado’s strong winds shoved the structure two feet over. Millie was trapped under the floor beams for three hours. The family cut the building’s wood floor and dug her out.

Erwin said, “I wasn’t scared of storms, but now I respect them and the damage they can do. When you experience it personally, you have a different outlook on it.”

Looking on the bright side he said, “We have an excellent Farm Bureau insurance adjuster and agents. They were here the next morning.”

On Sunday, a group of Air Force personnel stopped by Erwin’s farm to assist in the cleanup effort by piling up bent tin and downed trees.

“I want to thank them. I’ve never met them before and they wanted to help,” he said.

Erwin said a dozen men from the area showed up with chainsaws and started cutting all day long Saturday and Sunday.

“It restores your faith in humanity,” he said.