Wednesday, April 30, 2014

TOP STORY >> Storm devastates El Paso

Leader staff writer

The powerful tornado on Sunday that hammered Mayflower and Vilonia also hit the northern edge of the El Paso community, killing one woman and destroying four homes. The twister’s destructive path plowed along El Paso Road off Hwy. 5 in White County.

“It was the most terrifying experience I’ve ever been through in my life,” Robert Chambers said.

Chambers, his wife, Christina; their 9-year-old daughter, Madison; and his 74-year-old mother, Loraine, sought shelter in a hallway of their home.

“It was five seconds of terror, then silence. We began picking off debris, making sure everyone was OK,” Chambers said.

The 100-year-old three-bedroom house that had been in their family for generations was leveled. They emerged with cuts and bruises.

“I honestly don’t know how we walked out of here. It was miracle; I know that,” Robert Chambers said.

The family’s cat, Thomas, warned them of the approaching tornado, as no sirens sounded.
“Our cat was acting funny at the foot of the bed. Its eyes got real big. He craned his neck and his head turned almost around to look out the window. He opened his mouth really wide. It was strangest behavior I have ever seen,” Chambers said.

He said they had 10 to 15 seconds to get into the hallway.

“I believe Thomas saved our lives. We would have been hit before we heard the roar (of the tornado),” Christina Chambers said.

Robert Chambers said the house was shaking. They got down, and he tried to cover everybody up.

He said they were inside the tornado. He felt the debris, the cold winds, being lifted up and the rain. Chambers said it did sound like a freight train, with a deafening roar.

“I honestly thought that we were gone — the sheer force. I hope I never go through it again. I won’t. I will get a storm shelter,” Chambers said.

“I’m very thankful. We lost everything, but we survived. I don’t think it has sunk in. We are in shock. Our car is in our kitchen,” Chambers said.

Their cat has not been found.  

Chambers said residents have stopped by with food and money. The American Red Cross disaster relief team gave out snacks and water to storm victims.

“I advise everybody, if they don’t have a storm shelter, to get one. We were very fortunate,” Robert Chambers said. 

Chambers’ aunt, Paula Blakemore, 55, died when the twister shredded her doublewide trailer. She was their neighbor. El Paso firefighters found her body 200 feet away in the woods.

The twister toppled a tree onto Leroy Kirkland’s new truck and skipped along a field toward the homes on El Paso Road.

“The TV quit working. I came out to the porch. There was no wind. It felt like I was in vacuum. The wind started moving.

“I got back inside into the hall and covered up. It didn’t last a few seconds. It was a scary situation. Thankful we didn’t get hurt,” Kirkland said.

Family, church friends and a dozen airmen with the 53rd Airlift Squadron from the Little Rock Air Force Base were helping Kirkland on Monday as he cut  downed trees and be-gan to make repairs to his fence row.

“You don’t expect a lot of young guys to do that. They are asking me for things to do,” Kirkland said.

Victor Lockert said, “The TV told us it was coming. When it hit Vilonia, I left to go to Beebe to get away from it.”

When he came back home his carport was on his truck.

David Jones found junk mail addressed to Vilonia residents and dozens of pictures in his field.

El Paso Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Boaz reported there were two houses completely destroyed and three injuries. Three years ago nearly the same day, a tornado skirted the northwest corner of El Paso, damaging a house and trees.

El Paso is an unincorporated township. It does not have tornado sirens.

Boaz said he has asked the White County Office of Emergency Management for sirens in the past. They told him it would better serve the residents to have NOAA weather radios. El Paso is rural and spread out. It would be hard for the sirens to reach everyone in the community.

A small command center at the fire station after the last tornado hit has since been closed.

The fire department plans to meet with El Paso Community Center board members to see if the community center can be used during the next emergency. 

“It humbles me to see the outpouring of the community. People as far as Antioch and Furlow came to bring food. It is amazing how this brings things together,” Boaz said.