After almost 30 years, nothing is left

By Tammy Keith Published May 1, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Renee Boozer of Chicago, left, comforts Ruth Boozer of Mayflower, who rode out the tornado in a hallway with her son James, who is in a wheelchair, Ruth said. Ruth’s home was destroyed in the storm.

MAYFLOWER — Ruth Boozer of Mayflower said she’d never been in a tornado until Sunday night, “and I hope and pray to God I never do it again.”

Boozer, 73, gathered Monday with relatives, some of them from Illinois, at her daughter’s damaged home.

The tornado that tore along Arkansas 365 in Mayflower destroyed Boozer’s home, which she’d lived in for almost 30 years.

“They’re ain’t nothing left of it,” she said. As she cried, relatives got a chair for Boozer, who was using oxygen.

Her daughter, Freda Vanbyssum, lived next door, and a majority of the roof and walls in the home were gone.

Boozer said she and her son James Boozer, who uses a wheelchair and also lives with her, got into the hallway and lay down when the storm approached.

“You lay there, and you can hear the glass and the roar and the glass falling all over your body,” she said.

Her other son, Freddie, lived across the street, she said, with his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter, who was injured and required surgery.

“They were slung out the back of their trailer,” she said.

Vanbyssum said she and her husband were in the bathroom of her home when the storm hit, “covering each other, and the dog.”

She said the first sound she heard was a tree cracking; then the tornado came.

“We heard it — it sounded like a train,” she said.

“I lost a lot of my grandkids’ pictures, my kids’ pictures,” Vanbyssum said. Her dog was fine, and “I had a bird that made it,” she said.

Some of her relatives laughed in surprise when they discovered that a set of small blue-and-white china from Holland made it through the tornado in the china cabinet without getting a single chip.

A neighbor a few doors down Arkansas 365, Mary Gubanski, was sitting Monday in a chair in her living room, the walls of which were covered with dirt from the storm. Gubanski, 73, said her daughter texted her to notify her about the severe weather, and Gubanski took shelter in a hallway with her husband, her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend.

“We just hunkered down and put our arms around each other and started praying, and that’s what saved us,” she said. “We heard everything banging around.”

Her son and daughter said they were frustrated that relatives couldn’t get into Mayflower to help with the cleanup.

“We need help,” Gubanski said. “My daughter’s husband and his family, they were coming to help. They should let them in.”

Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland said in a later interview that if residents meet relatives at a checkpoint, the relatives will be allowed in.

Holland said he watched the tornado as it made its way toward Mayflower.

“I got my family into our closet, … and I was on my back porch, and I watched it come across,” Holland said.

“Once it got to the Arkansas River, and I watched it, it took an immediate left. It took a left when it hit that river, then it hit [The River] Plantation, then it went up the hill, then it hit Mayflower, and then it went that way and hit Vilonia,” he said.

“I expected it to look like a funnel. This was wide, and it was black, and it was making the craziest noise I’ve ever heard in my life, like a grinder,” he said. “It was sucking like a vacuum cleaner. The actual air, you could feel it from your body, sucking into that. I was amazed,” he said. “I could see it go into Lumber One.”

Mayflower got just a sliver of the tornado in 2011 when that one hit Vilonia, and this one followed close to the same path, “except it’s bigger and it’s wider.”

He said in addition to The River Plantation, the tornado hit Dam Road and businesses on Arkansas 365, then residences.

As of Monday afternoon, Holland said, he hadn’t been to sleep, but he was ready.

“I’ve been going 100 mph. I’m whipped,” he said.

Gubanski said she was concerned about having to leave her home because of the possibility of looting. She was trying to pack what hadn’t been destroyed, but she needed boxes, she said.

“It’s just a mess. Every time I get up to do something, I get overwhelmed and come and sit back down,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or

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