Saturday, May 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> Storm cost still rising

Leader staff writer

Faulkner County officials on Thursday reported that 700 homes were destroyed or damaged by the tornado that hit Vilonia, Mayflower and El Paso last Sunday evening, killing 15 people in three counties.

FEMA has approved $318,746 in assistance for 422 victims who registered to receive it as of Friday afternoon, according to public information officer Dan Martinez.

According to a report released by the National Weather Service this week, the devastating tornado was rated an EF4, meaning it had 166-200 mph winds. Its path was 42 miles long.

And it was the first EF4 or stronger tornado in the United States in 2014, the report states.

Sunday’s tornado was the deadliest single tornado in Arkansas since the March 1, 1997, tornado ranked an F4 (using the old scale) killed 15 in Saline and Pulaski counties, according to National Weather Service data.

According to a Faulkner County news release, 710 homes have received preliminary assessments.

Of those, 328 were destroyed, 111 had major damage, 231 had minor damage and 40 others were affected by the tornado.

Of the assistance amount FEMA approved, Martinez said $270,908 was for damage to homes and $47,838 was for other needs, like personal belongings, medical and funeral expenses.

There are three mobile units where victims can register for assistance. They are at First Assembly of God Church, 851 Main St. in Vilonia; 607 Hwy. 365 in Mayflower and First Baptist Church, 1206 Main St. in Vilonia.

They can also register by calling 501-621-3362 or online.

There are 117 FEMA boots on the ground in Arkansas, Martinez noted. More are on the way.

And a disaster recovery center will open in Mayflower on Tuesday.

The Attorney General’s Office warns homeowners of scams that arise after natural disasters.

They should avoid contractors who require fees up front, pressure the homeowners to hire them immediately or show up at their homes, according to a news release. Research the door-to-door contractors using neighbors and the Better Business Bureau, it states.

Homeowners should always get estimates, put everything in writing, never pay to fill out a loan application and never pay someone a fee to arrange financing, the release continued.

It also says prices can’t go up more than 10 percent by law.

Then the release states that legitimate charities won’t pressure people, won’t offer to send someone to pick up money, won’t call to thank someone for a pledge they haven’t made and are registered with the Attorney General’s Office.

As of Wednesday, volunteers who wanted to help with the cleanup in Vilonia and Mayflower were asked to sign in at Beryl Baptist Church in Vilonia or at city hall in Mayflower.

It has been reported that a main volunteer resource center will be set up at Home Depot in Conway. The center would direct volunteers to access points in Vilonia and Mayflower that have not been decided.

A Facebook group for volunteers has also been formed. Search Arkanstrong Volunteer Tornado Response Forum for more information.

Police have been turning away onlookers in both towns and setting a curfew of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Several cities and other local entities are providing or have provided assistance.


Beebe Mayor’s assistant Angie Gibbons said the city has sent three loads of donations, including water, clothes, food and toiletries, in the last couple of days.

The city of Beebe, the chamber and First Baptist Church are leading efforts to collect the donations for tornado victims.

Drop-off points are at city hall, the police department, the fire department and the church. Deliveries are being made to Vilonia, El Paso and Center Hill.

Gibbons said Beebe’s police chief and fire chief traveled to Vilonia to help out on the first day of the recovery effort.

The city’s dump trucks and other equipment were offered, but Gibbons said she didn’t know if they were used.

She explained that the mayor told her that Vilonia had a lot of National Guard equipment at its disposal.


Cabot Police Chief Jackie Davis said the city’s cops helped with search and rescue effort, traffice control and patrolled Mayflower on Wednesday.

Director of Operations Eddie Cook added that Cabot firefighters have helped staff Vilonia’s firehouse at night.

The Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department on Hwy. 31 also responded to the disaster.

The Cabot Library is collecting nonperishable food, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, blankets, diapers, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, towels, washcloths and pet food.

Re:New Community Church is bringing Vilonia residents by van to the church’s community center to allow them to pick out supplies and clothing. And church members are putting together personal hygiene kits for residents.

Cabot Resource Center on Hwy. 5 next to Sonic near Greystone is collecting donations for tornado victims. The center is a distribution point for the Arkansas Conference for the United Methodist Church. Deaconess Colleen Caldwell said disaster relief teams from North Carolina and Louisiana are using the church’s facilities during the evenings.

Angel Franks of Lonoke is collecting donations for storm victims at the Atwoods store parking lot. A U-Haul truck is set up to accept donations of bottled water, baby formula, care products and other items from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Items will be taken to Vilonia.

Franks’ brother, Staff Sgt. James Luttrell, a Marine stationed in Virginia Beach, has organized a collection in his area. Different drivers from Virginia to Vilonia are relaying a trailer of donated items.

Cabot Crossfit is accepting donations, too. Its members planned to volunteer today.

Excel Ford of Cabot has teamed up with the Cabot Dream Center to gather donations of work gloves, large trash bags, water, wipes, toiletries, diapers, paper towels and hand sanitizer.

Ward Central Elementary School is accepting monetary donations for tornado victims.


Jacksonville provided two ambulances during the search and rescue effort in Vilonia.

The Airmen and Family Readiness Center on Little Rock Air Force Base is accepting donations of shovels, rakes, hoes, workman’s gloves, heavy-duty trash bags, eye goggles, hand sanitizer, flashlights, batteries, tarps, corded ropes and water.

Help Make Jacksonville Beautiful Again is sponsoring a barbecue potluck at 10 a.m. today at Galloway Park. The group will collect donations for tornado victims.

Donations of blankets, pillows, bottled water and non-perishable food are being accepted at North Metro Medical Center’s Education Building in Jacksonville. Donated items are being delivered to the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office.

Jacksonville’s First United Methodist Church is accepting donations of water, snacks, diapers, blankets, tarps, batteries and flashlights that will be delivered to the Red Cross.

Whit Davis Lumber Plus stores in Jacksonville, Cabot and Greenbriar are serving as tornado relief drop-off locations.

The business is asking people to donate batteries, flashlights, bottled water, clothes, blankets, toiletries, toothbrushes, packaged snacks, canned goods and cash.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said she offered trucks to pick up the debris but Mayflower officials said the county would take care of theirs. She hasn’t heard back from Vilonia.

Hillman added that several of the city’s churches are leading relief drives and volunteering.

The city’s firefighters were scheduled to help out on Thursday, Fire Chief David Teague said earlier in the week.

Area churches, businesses and those leading relief efforts that are not publicized here are invited to contact The Leader at 501-982-9421 for publication in follow-up coverage.

Leader creative editor Christy Hendricks and staff writer Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.