Wedding on day of tornado 'saved our lives'

The tornado Sunday through central Arkansas destroyed Mark and Liz Patterson's home outside Mayflower.
The tornado Sunday through central Arkansas destroyed Mark and Liz Patterson's home outside Mayflower.

If it were any other Sunday night, Mark Patterson, his fiancée and their three children would almost certainly have been in their home on Plantation Drive outside Mayflower.

But this Sunday was different. It had been set months ago as their wedding day, and the happy couple traveled with family and friends to Roland for the ceremony.

The vows had been exchanged and the first dance completed when the clouds started to turn ugly, Patterson recalled Thursday. It wasn't too much later that the text messages started rolling in: that Plantation Drive home, the place where the family almost always spent their Sunday evenings and the house the newlyweds thought they would return to that night, was gone.

The Pattersons are one of dozens of families picking up the pieces after an EF4 tornado tore through homes and businesses in a 41-mile path of heavy destruction through Pulaski, Faulkner and White counties.

But the Pattersons' story is unique in one way from the scores of other tornado victims who also found their homes reduced by nearly 200 mph winds to rubble: A wedding may have saved their lives.

"There's a definite, 100 percent chance we would have been home," Patterson, 40, said. "No question about it. We wouldn't be alive."

Before they settled on an April 27 wedding day, the couple considered a Saturday wedding that would have been the day before. That also might have spared their lives — the couple planned to leave on a honeymoon in Mexico the morning after — but tragedy wouldn't necessarily have been averted.

Patterson said that scenario would have had his mother staying in the home the next night, taking care of the children, ages 6, 8 and 12.

He can't imagine getting that call.

"It would have been devastating," he said. "If you're a believer in things happening for a reason, you've gotta look at this and know that."

The family on Thursday was still working their way through the devastation wrought by the storm. Patterson, speaking by phone in a quick break from dealing with insurance matters, said the family made a short list of items they hoped to pull from the wreckage of their home, including photographs, his wife's cherished baby doll and a gun Patterson's great-grandfather gave him before he died.

Most were found and the family intends to rebuild nearby, but it was still difficult to survey the remains of the home where the children grew.

"The fact they'll never be able to drive out and and see the home they've been in since they were little, that's kind of sad," Patterson said.

The family was relieved to be reunited with two of their dogs, who somehow survived in the destroyed home. One, Daisy, a 4 1/2-year-old Chocolate Lab, was pulled from a tree 300 yards from the home by a policeman the night of the tornado, Patterson said. She suffered two broken legs but was recovering at Maumelle Animal Hospital.

Another, 2-year-old Brittany spaniel Dixie, emerged from the wreckage when the Pattersons finally made it back to the home the morning after the tornado.

A lot remains up in the air for the family as they work through the recovery effort and then move on to rebuilding a home together. There's no telling when the honeymoon to Mexico will happen, but Patterson does know what he'll tell people for now and years to come when they ask about the wedding day.

"I'll just say it saved our lives," he said.


Melanie Russell of Russell Photography

Mark and Liz Patterson