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Fordyce cleaning up after EF2 tornado

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published January 23, 2012 at 6:37 a.m. Updated January 23, 2012 at 1:00 p.m.

a-possible-tornado-damaged-several-houses-including-this-one-in-fordyce

A possible tornado damaged several houses, including this one, in Fordyce.

Fordyce mayor surveys damage

Fordyce Mayor John MacNichol surveyed the damage Monday morning after a tornado touched down in his ...

Fordyce cleaning up after tornado

No serious injuries were reported, but at least two homes were destroyed and others damaged when a t...

Fordyce storm damage

January 23, 2012

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Trees were knocked down in Fordyce after a storm there.

12:10 p.m. update

Fordyce Mayor John MacNichol says 7 to 8 homes were destroyed and about 40 others sustained some form of damage in a tornado Sunday night.

The National Weather Service, after surveying the damage Monday morning, rated the tornado as an EF2, which pack winds up to 135 mph.

MacNichol, speaking while conducting his own assessment with city police chief Jimmy Vaughn, said several other homes were damaged outside of city limits. But he said there was only one report of an injury, which he characterized as very minor.

"We're very, very thankful," MacNichol said, standing in front of a home on Ford Drive that was destroyed. "And very, very lucky."

MacNichol said crews in Fordyce were working to clear roadways so people can access their properties, adding the city's phone line has been "ringing off the hook" with offers of assistance from neighboring cities, church groups and others.

10 a.m. update

Renee Peebles has experienced plenty of false calls about possible tornadoes, so she initially had no intention of leaving her mobile home off Highway 8 when severe storms threatened Fordyce Sunday night.

But a frantic call from her husband convinced Peebles at the last second to seek shelter elsewhere. She only made it at as far as a nearby car wash before the powerful winds forced her to pull off, but leaving may have saved Peeble's life.

She returned home at daylight Monday, finding a sea of broken branches and fallen trees crisscrossing her property and crushing her home.

"I would have stayed home if it hadn't been for my husband," Peebles said, taking a break from salvaging possessions from the wreckage. "I thought this trailer's been here since a hundred years ago, it's not going anywhere. Now there's a big tree on my bed."

Peebles was one of a number of residents on Fordyce's north side cleaning up wreckage wreaked by the tornado, whose size and exact path will be determined by a National Weather Service crew scheduled to visit the area Monday morning.

At least two homes were destroyed, dozens of large trees were uprooted and strewn against buildings, sheds were overturned and power lines were knocked down. Most of the worst wreckage was centered on the north side of town off Highway 8.

No one was reported seriously injured or killed in Fordyce, which Dallas County Judge Jimmy Jones said was a miracle considering the extent of the damage.

"This is devastating when these things hit, you just have to see it to believe it," he said. "But we're just so blessed we don't even know what to do. Because it could be so much worse."

Brenda Robinson, who has lived in a home off Highway 8 for 43 years, waited out the storm with her husband in their middle bedroom. The house was mostly unscathed, but the couple emerged to find almost all of the trees in their yard and block on the ground.

Some were knocked over at the root while others were severed halfway or three-quarters of the way up. She said it all happened in a heartbeat - the trees all snapped at once in a single loud boom.

She called the damage indescribable.

"On a scale from one to 10, I would say ten," she said. "Or twelve. It's just - it's bad."

Robinson's neighbor, James Garner, checked on the oncoming storm from his patio and then - not liking what he heard - rushed inside to seek shelter with his wife.

"By the time we got in the bathroom, it was over," Garner said Monday. "It was just that quick. It just sounded like a freight train."

The tornado damaged part of his roof, ripped off the patio, overturned a camper, destroyed a barn and buried his truck in a mess of debris.

"But we made it through it," Garner said. "That's all that matters."

6:37 a.m. update

Officials with the National Weather Service will spend Monday surveying damage paths left by severe storms to determine if tornadoes or strong winds were responsible.

Julie Lesko, a meteorologist with the weather service in North Little Rock, said at least four tornadoes were suspected of touching down, including one near Fordyce that reportedly damaged two homes and briefly trapped a woman inside one of them.

Still, no injuries were reported.

Entergy on Monday morning reported more than 3,400 customers without power.

The weather service received 10 reports of tornadoes Sunday night in parts of Cleveland, Dallas, Lonoke, Prairie, Arkansas and Crittenden counties, though none had been confirmed as tornadoes early Monday. Some of the reports may have been sightings of the same tornado.

Lesko said crews would visit the affected areas, looking for significant damage that suggests a rotating path of a tornado.

"They'll start at where we believe a tornado may have touched down and crisscross the path on any streets they can find and survey damage," she said. "We'll check out every single one that probably had a warning or at least reported damage."

John Robinson, also with the service, said crews will start their survey in Fordyce to track the path of what could turn out to be one supercell producing damage across a swath of south Arkansas.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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