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story.lead_photo.caption Only the concrete foundation of Hal Sellers' Vilonia home remained after a tornado swept through Wednesday, destroying that structure and the nearby homes of three family members. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

VILONIA — Standing by the concrete foundation where his home had stood just two days earlier, Hal Sellers could survey similar devastation at three family members' homes.

Sellers, his wife and other family members survived Sunday's tornado in a storm shelter dug into the ground near his East Wicker Street residence.

But they emerged after the deadly tornado passed to find not only Sellers' home reduced to rubble but also those of his father-in-law, who lives across the street; his wife's aunt, who lives about 100 yards away; and his daughter and son-in-law, who reside about a quarter mile north.

"We're close," Sellers said Tuesday. "The thing about living in a group is when something happens in your area, it affects all of us. It affects the whole family. They've got a wall or two standing and ours, we don't have anything standing, and my son-in-law and daughter have a few walls standing. But everything's going to have to be totally dismantled and redone. There's nothing you can save out of it other than pictures and stuff like that."

Despite the devastation hitting the whole family, Sellers, 53, was upbeat Tuesday as an army of volunteers helped sift through the wreckage, searching for anything they could salvage among crumbled bricks, splintered boards and tangled metal.

Sellers said he was thankful to be alive after the tornado, which killed 15 people including a neighbor who Sellers didn't know was home when the storm moved in. Some prized possessions had been recovered and while others were still missing or found destroyed, Sellers wasn't letting it bring him down.

"You know that it's just temporary stuff," he said. "It's 50 years of accumulation. But you don't bring anything into this world and you don't take anything out when you leave. And the rest is just for your enjoyment. So you know other things can be bought. My Suburban is out in that field a quarter mile away and wadded up in a big old circle. But it's just stuff."

Standing by a burning pile of downed trees and storm debris Tuesday, Sellers described the moments leading up to the tornado. Fearing it was headed for Vilonia, the family had moved to the shelter when they got a call from Sellers' brother. He recounted a television meteorologist who had just "zeroed in" on part of Vilonia in his on-screen map and said the tornado would be at that spot momentarily.

"And it just happened to be centered up right on our house," Seller said. "[My brother] was calling me to make sure we were somewhere safe."

The forecast was right and the tornado swept through the area, wreaking immense destruction on homes and businesses nearby. For a time, Sellers' wife watched it from the shelter, seeing the debris cloud swirling items including concrete bricks and trees. Then the winds slammed the door shut.

"It was over in about 20 seconds," Sellers said. "Went from life as normal to kind of chaotic. But it's all replaceable."

One family loses four homes in Vilonia tornado

Hal Sellers lost his home in the large tornado Sunday and so did three family members who live nearby. (By Gavin Lesnick)
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Photo by Gavin Lesnick
Hal Sellers

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