Search and rescue teams continue combing through debris in an attempt to locate survivors after a deadly storm system swept through Arkansas Sunday evening, killing 15 people in the state.
The storm devastated the town of Vilonia, about 20 miles north of the state capital of Little Rock, and Mayflower, situated northwest of the capital city, leaving 11 people dead in Faulkner County as it chewed through an area some 80 miles long.
Four other deaths were reported in Arkansas (three in Pulaski County, one in White County), and there was one fatality in both Oklahoma and Iowa. A woman in southeastern Iowa died when a farm house collapsed from damage caused by a twister or straight-line winds, and another person was killed by a tornado in Quapaw, Okla. That storm passed into Kansas, destroyed more than 100 homes and business, and injured at least 25 people.
Another powerful system
Vilonia also was hit by a deadly tornado just three years ago. Four people were killed in that storm.
“We were very fortunate it did not hit our community,” said Sarah Hays, a communications specialist at First Presbyterian Church in nearby Conway, Ark. She said a number of FPC members were affected by the tornado.
Conway is located less than 14 miles west of Vilonia.
The tornado, believed to be at least a category E2 and maybe even an E3 with winds of 136 mph or greater, touched down around 7 p.m. (CST) and reached half a mile in width. It tossed around vehicles, ripped roofs off houses and toppled numerous structures and trees, leaving nothing but piles of rubble in its wake. Nothing but the foundation was left for many homes in the storm’s path as it swept through Vilonia and Mayflower.
Kenneth Rich, director of Mission Support for the Presbytery of Arkansas, said General Presbyter Bill Galbraith contacted Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) about the impact of the storm on residents in the area, and a task force will be sent to assess damages and begin providing aid. He added a local disaster preparedness committee from the presbytery will be meeting Wednesday to determine how the presbytery can provide assistance those people who lost their homes and even family members in the tornadic activity.
“It’s really bad,” Rich said. “There are entire neighborhoods that are just slabs and debris right now. It’s a bad situation.”
There have been no reports of PCUSA churches affected by the storms.
Rich added that the presbytery is compiling a list of items that churches and/or individuals can contribute to help those in need as well as other things that can be done to provide assistance.
“Prayer is certainly at the top of the list,” he said.
Storms all around
The deadly twisters in the central part of the nation came on the same day that an 11-month-old boy in eastern North Carolina died, just two days after suffering injuries when a tornado struck his home in Edenton. That twister was one of eight to touch down Friday, April 25 in North Carolina, where more than a dozen people were reported injured and approximately 200 homes and business were destroyed or damaged heavily.
Additional tornadoes touched down Sunday in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, and weather reports indicated that Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana could experience powerful storms with damaging winds, rain and hail the next couple of days.
President Barack Obama, who was in the Philippines Sunday when the deadly storm cut its swath across the central United States, promised the government would help in the recovery.
“Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes,” Obama said.
Sunday was also the third anniversary of a 122-tornado day, which struck parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, and killed 316 people.