Volunteer firefighters crawl through trees to respond

By Tammy Keith Originally Published April 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 17, 2013 at 11:41 a.m.
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Tammy Keith

Capt. Daniel Silva, a Walnut Grove volunteer firefighter, shows damage done by the April 10 tornado to the Fire Department on Arkansas 95. He and other firefighters responded after the tornado, crawling on their hands and knees for seven hours to check on residents on Hardy Hill Road, which was covered with downed trees.

— Capt. Daniel Silva of the Walnut Grove Volunteer Fire Department, Fire Chief Royce Johnson and his wife, firefighter Sharon Johnson, crawled on their hands and knees for seven hours over downed trees on Hardy Hill Road after the April 10 tornado.

“It was the worse I’ve ever seen, and I was here in ’08,” Silva said, when a deadly tornado hit Clinton.

No one was killed this time in Van Buren County, but homes were hit, and the EF2 tornado plowed through trees along Arkansas 95.

Silva, 44, said he carried his heavy first-responder bag with supplies as he crawled.

“It was 12 [midnight] before I got back down here,” he said, sitting at a folding table in the damaged fire station.

Silva, also a bus driver for the Clinton School District and a storm spotter, was taking children home from school when the storm started.

“I was in the middle of it; I saw it coming,” he said. “It was gray and cloudy. Lightning was hitting all around us. It was raining off and on a little bit; then it got calm, and that’s when I knew we were in trouble.”

The children on the bus weren’t scared, he said.

“They were like, ‘Oh, cool.’”

Silva said Fire Department personnel started basic search and rescue, and seven homes were hit in Walnut Grove.

He and the Johnsons slowly made their way down Hardy Hill Road to check on six residences, but everyone was OK, he said.

All five of the fire station’s roll-up doors were blown out, he said. The meeting room endured the brunt of the damage, he said, showing the destroyed doors, missing roof and insulation hanging.

One pumper has a cracked window, and the water tanker has a broken light and damage to the hood.

The trucks are usable, Silva said, and are being stored at a private home.

Equipment and other items from the fire station were secured in a trailer.

Silva said he wasn’t sure how much money it would take to restore the fire station.

Elaine Griggs, whose husband, Glenn, is president of the fire association, and volunteer Lori Sheets were manning the exposed fire station Sunday, helping coordinate volunteers.

Griggs said Walnut Grove firefighters, including Silva, were taking food to other volunteers.

“Saturday, I had to give 100 lunches out. That’s how many people were out there volunteering,” Silva said.

The tornado first touched down about three miles southeast of Scotland, according to the National Weather Service.

Van Buren County Judge Roger Hooper said it was “a tornado of great length,” creating 25 to 30 miles of destruction.

The tornado damaged 69 residences in the county, Hooper said, and six were “totally destroyed.”

Four people were injured in Van Buren County and the tornado destroyed the Botkinburg

Foursquare Church. Hooper also said residences on Scotland Formosa, Butter Creek and Moors roads, all near Scotland, had damage.

“We’re just fortunate there were no deaths,” Griggs said, considering the extent of the damage.

Silva said if someone had been injured on the blocked Hardy Hill Road, there would have been no choice but to wait until the next day to airlift the person to a hospital.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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