MAYFLOWER — Don Sears of Mayflower took about 30 minutes to show what was left of his home and his son’s next door and to explain how he and his wife survived the city’s deadly April 27 tornado.
“This is the most I’ve talked about it, two months later,” he said.
He called his insurance company only a couple of weeks ago with an estimate of what he thinks it will take to clean up the debris at what used to be his home in The River Plantation subdivision.
Sears said his many business interests have kept him from focusing as much on the aftermath of the Faulkner County tornado. He’s in real estate, and he and his son, Todd, own Sears Construction Development and Leasing.
After the tornado, Sears and his wife, Frankie, moved into a hotel room, then a showroom apartment in Conway in which Sears Construction has part ownership. The couple have since leased a home in Maumelle.
“We basically walked away from here with the clothes on our backs,” Sears said, standing in the yard next to his destroyed home. Sears and his wife have lived in the subdivision about nine years, he said.
He and Frankie were sitting and reading the April 27 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in their favorite spot in the back of their home, which featured windows to take in the picturesque view of the Arkansas River.
The TV hadn’t been on all day, and they had no idea a tornado was on its way, Sears said. The couple had been to church and to an estate sale in Little Rock and had eaten dinner early when their son, who was in Little Rock with his family, called Sears’ cellphone. Sears said he could tell his son was serious.
“He said, ‘If you guys are not in my basement, you guys need to be there, and you need to go now,’” Sears said.
As he talked, he walked through his property to his son’s slab.
It took about a minute, he said, to get out of his house.
“The wind was not blowing hard, and it was not raining hard,” he said.
When they walked in the front door of his son’s home, however, he could see out the wall of windows, toward Pinnacle Mountain, that “the tornado was on the ground just across the river.”
“I said, ‘Come on, Frankie; we need to hustle down to the basement,’” Sears said.
It took another minute to get down there, he said.
“A minute had not elapsed till all hell broke loose upstairs,” he said. “We heard all sorts of booming, crashing and roaring sounds.
“Before the noise stopped, the basement door collapsed and came crashing down the stairs, followed by debris,” which included bricks and drywall, he said.
He estimated that the storm lasted about 40 seconds.
“Then it got unusually quiet,” he said, and his wife said she thought the tornado had passed.
“I got up and started raking debris off the stairwell so we could crawl out. When we stuck our heads out above the floor level, we saw basically what you see now — sky, clouds — although the sun wasn’t shining. No house. No walls. No furniture. There was nothing left of this house,” he said.
Sears said he felt, “just sad.”
“I really thought there’d be more loss of life,” he said. One woman in the subdivision was killed, although she was in a safe room. Three people were killed in Mayflower.
His home had a couple of walls left standing, as well as some kitchen cabinets and a kitchen island, but “very little” of their belongings was salvaged, he said. Some of their documents and papers blew all the way to Cave City, Heber Springs and Batesville.
“Some people who know me personally have mailed items back,” he said.
Part of a proud military family, Sears said he spent 39 years in the Army and Army National Guard.
“That’s why so many people know me around the state,” he said. His wife served in the military for 21 years; their daughter, Roni Bowman, served 15 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard; and Todd served for 23 in the Army National Guard.
“We had a lot of memorabilia from the military,” he said. “It’s gone. The things you treasure the most, you can’t buy.”
He said volunteers have gone through the rubble several times to salvage anything of value.
The good news, he said, was that “none of our family got as much as a scratch.”
Sears said he was surprised to see that a utility trailer of his that was parked about 30 feet below his home near his boat dock ended up overturned on a hill in the subdivision. He estimated that it weighed a ton. On Tuesday, it was in his yard, and he was taking off the tires to see if they could be repaired.
Sears praised the cleanup effort in The River Plantation, from the county road crews to law enforcement and water and gas companies.
“I think the response was good,” he said. “Law enforcement performed well, in my opinion, and handled looting.”
With only one paved road in and out of the subdivision, Sears said, the rules to enter were stringent, but he considers that a good thing.
Although some debris was still stacked on curbs last week, he said it was vastly improved from what it looked like after April 27.
Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said two or three sweeps have been made to pick up debris in the subdivision, and the final sweep started June 30. He said that by today, the county’s cleanup of the subdivision should be completed.
“There was just such a tremendous volume of debris,” Dodson said of the neighborhood. “It’s mind-boggling amounts of debris.”
“I hope next week we’ll start cleanup here,” Sears said.
“We loved that house; we designed that house,” he said.
Someone in the neighborhood found the house plans, safely tucked inside a shipping tube that had been stored in the couple’s attic prior to the tornado. The couple plan to rebuild on their lot, with a few tweaks to the original plan.
“We’ll have an underground shelter, for sure,” Sears said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.