A tornado ripped through the state Sunday, killing at least 11 people, injuring dozens more and destroying multiple homes, the National Weather Service, state and law enforcement officials said.
A tornado struck western Pulaski County and continued northeast ramming through Mayflower and Vilonia, said Charles Dalton of the National Weather Service in North Little Rock. Just before 9 p.m., the tornado roared into White County, then swept into Jackson County and southern Independence County, Dalton said. Early estimates show that the tornado was on the ground “for at least 30 to 40 miles,” he said.
Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, confirmed that five people were dead in Faulkner County, five in Pulaski and one in White.
At 11 p.m., Vilonia Fire Chief Keith Hillman said there were five dead in Vilonia.
Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay confirmed that two teenagers and one adult were killed about 9:30 p.m. after a presumed-tornado struck the Brush Mountain Trail area in western Pulaski County, just east of Paron off Kanis Road. Most of the damage was just east of the Saline County line.
Holladay said there was extensive damage, and he expected there to be “multiple fatalities.”
A command post was set up at Greg’s One Stop on Kanis Road while sheriff ’s deputies went door-to-door looking for injured or trapped people.
“We’re trying to make our way through the debris,” Holladay said about 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Pulaski County emergency personnel, Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services units and firefighters with volunteer fire departments were at the scene Sunday night, Holladay said. Kanis Road was partially blocked Sunday evening with only one lane of traffic open in the 38000 block.
The tornado hit Interstate 40 near Mayflower, spreading debris into the roadway and closing the highway in both directions, said Danny Straessle, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. Highway Department crews were sent to clear the debris from the roadway.
Meanwhile, state troopers moved from one area to the next, responding to calls for assistance from local law enforcement agencies, Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said.
About 10 troopers went vehicle-to-vehicle along a 4-mile stretch of I-40 to make sure drivers were safe. As many as 30 vehicles were damaged or overturned as the storm moved through that area, Sadler said, adding that authorities were deterring drivers from traveling in that area in order to remove injured people and vehicles blocking the highway.
About 10 p.m., crews had cleared debris from I-40 and all lanes were reopened, Straessle said.
The tornado blew through a small trailer park in Mayflower, destroying about a half-dozen mobile homes. Rescue workers could be seen in the debris field in that area between Arkansas 365 and I-40 about 9 p.m., pulling a body from the rubble.
Mayflower resident Dawn Kellog was found lying Sunday in the bed of a pickup in the middle of Mayflower with a bad cut on her left leg. She said she was crouched in the bathroom of her double-wide mobile home when the tornado hit.
“We heard a roar, and then it got real black when the power went out. We knew it was coming so we got in the bathroom,” she said. “It took our house, and the winds rolled the house over.”
A Mayflower man who asked not to be identified said he was returning home from his hospital job in Little Rock when he came upon overturned vehicles on I-40. He said he helped at least five people, two of whom were trapped in their cars.
Two of the people, he said, had minor cuts, and one had a deep gash on his back.
“We were out here about15-20 minutes before anybody showed up to help,” he said.
The man said he then crossed into the debris field in Mayflower, about 100 yards from the interstate, and began helping the rescue workers there.
Emergency responders set up a triage center in the parking lot of Lumber 1 and began treating the injured.
Several backhoes were being used to move trees toppled by the storm. A beam about 40-feet long was ripped off the M&M Metal Mart building and dumped in a ditch 50-60 feet away.
Personnel with the North Little Rock and Maumelle police departments arrived in Mayflower by 9:30 p.m. to assist in the recovery efforts and to establish the triage post.
A Mayflower man, who did not want to be identified, said he had just left his shop, which was next to Lumber 1, minutes before the tornado hit.
A recreational vehicle that his brother had for sale in the parking lot of Lumber 1 was blown across the street and demolished. The man said several cars parked next to the RV were not touched at all.
Keith Stephens, spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said Sunday that the department’s maintenance facility - “a metal building with equipment” - and its clubhouse were damaged in the storm.
An employee tried to make it out to the facility near Mayflower shortly after the tornado, but I-40 was closed, Stephens said, adding that employees will assess the damage this morning.
In Vilonia, the tornado hit a subdivision and several other buildings, injuring several people.
Stacie Canady, her husband, Sean, and their two children heeded the warnings and went to the shelter at Vilonia Elementary School at 7:15 p.m. The shelter, one of three established in the town, was crowded.
Later, they emerged to find the damage.
“We had no idea. We didn’t hear anything. It was completely quiet, and then we came out to this,” she said, pointing west down Main Street. She spoke about 9 p.m. while standing outside a gas station near where emergency crews had gathered near Main Street and Arkansas 107.
Her home was in an area where authorities had blocked off the road because of the damage.
“We can’t get back home. We’re probably going to sleep at the shelter,” she said. “I don’t know if we have a home.”
Vilonia School District Superintendent Frank Mitchell said he had received reportsthat a new school being built on Mount Olive Road was “wiped out.” At least two of his teachers lost their homes, he said.
Damage to U.S. 64 in Vilonia will keep the highway closed for “some time,” Straessle said.
About 46 members of the Arkansas National Guard’s 87th Troop Command and the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were called in Sunday to assist local emergency responders in Mayflower and Vilonia.
The request from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management was for Guard manpower to assist at traffic-control points and for field ambulances to assist in transporting casualties out of the damaged areas.
Meanwhile, CenterPoint Energy personnel arrived in Mayflower at just after 9 p.m. Sunday to repair a gas leak.
The Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. reported about 10,000 power failures in the cooperative’s service area. Most of the failures - some 6,700 homes and businesses - were in Pulaski County. About 1,400 customers in White County were without power about 9:15 p.m. Sunday, state Electric Cooperative Corp. spokesman Rob Roedel said.
“This is one of those situations where Mother Nature decides what she wants to do, and then we respond as quickly and safely as we can,” Roedel said.
Nearly 15,500 Entergy customers were without electricity, mostly in Faulkner and White counties.
A spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Heavy rain in north-central and northeast Arkansas caused creeks to quickly spill over banks and flood roads.
The National Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning for Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Randolph, Sharp, Stone and White counties. One to three inches of rain fell in Pocahontas within an hour Sunday evening, and the weather service forecast an additional 1-3 inches for early today.
A Randolph County sheriff’s dispatcher said portions of U.S. 62 were underwater.
Floodwaters covered roads in parts of Independence County, said a sheriff’s dispatcher.
“It’s bad,” she said. “It’s everywhere. Numerous roads are flooded. Every fire department in the county is out helping,”
The dispatcher said several cars were stranded in water and officials made several water rescues Sunday evening.
Also, hail pelted some areas. In Baxter County, golfball-size hail fell in Henderson and hail 1 inch in diameter was reported in western Pulaski County on Sunday morning.
Faulkner County Attorney David Hogue said Sunday that incident command centers have been set up at the Mayflower City Hall and at the Vilonia Fire Station.
Shelters have been established in Conway at Oak Bowery Church at 889 Otto Road and at Antioch Baptist Church at 150 Amity Road.
A separate severe weather system was expected to move across the state early this morning. Tornado watches were to remain in effect until 6 a.m. today.
Information for this article was contributed by Scott Carroll, Glen Chase, Chad Day, Ken Heard, Claudia Lauer and Noel Oman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.