NASHVILLE -- An unstable storm system that brewed over the weekend with warm, moist air spawned at least one tornado that killed two people in southwest Arkansas on Sunday evening and dumped up to 8 inches of rain over much of the state, washing out roads and flooding creeks and rivers.
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Garland County sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Simpson examines the scene at 798 Ragweed Valley Road where the roadway gave way when a tractor-trailer crossed a culvert early Monday that was weakened by high water.
Jimmy Goodwin (left), with his nephew Cole Goodwin (bottom), who were cutting fallen trees at a family member’s home along Park Street in Nashville, receive sack lunches Monday from Jonah Fant (top center), Tasha Fant and Ashley Thompson. Schools in town closed for the day, allowing members of Nashville’s Immanuel Baptist Church youth group to make 150 sack lunches to distribute.
Concrete steps are all that remain standing Monday of the mobile home where a Nashville couple were killed in an EF2 tornado Sunday night.
Terry Webb (center) cradles her sister’s wet and frightened cat after finding it Monday among storm debris at the D&J Trailer Park in Nashville.
Men cruise through a sea of storm debris on the north side of the Airport Road bridge over Lake Hamilton on Monday in Hot Springs.
Members assess the storm damage at the Sunset Church of Christ in Nashville on Monday.
Michael Mooneyhan, 29, and his wife, Melissa Mooneyhan, 28, were killed about 11:30 p.m. when the twister struck their mobile home in Nashville, but their 1-year-old daughter survived. Six others were injured in the storm.
The couple's vehicles sat Monday at the end of West Sypert Street in front of the concrete steps where the home once stood, while volunteers and family members sifted through piles of debris. Shredded insulation, splintered wood, waterlogged photographs and muddied toys served as the only reminder of the four homes that once made up the small neighborhood.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared 10 Arkansas counties as disaster areas because of the storms and flooding. Franklin, Garland, Howard, Izard, Johnson, Montgomery, Newton, Pike, Pope and Searcy counties are all eligible to receive state funding for damage repairs.
"Sadly, we've been through this before and we know how devastating these storms can be," Hutchinson said. "But Arkansans help out each other. We always have. We always will."
Hutchinson and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., toured the damage Monday afternoon. After stepping over piles of drywall, tin and broken tile to reach the concrete foundation of the Mooneyhans' home, the governor stood gazing at the devastation, slowly shaking his head.
"This young child lost her parents," he said of the Mooneyhans' daughter, Emily, who is now in her grandparents' care. "I wanted to be here and see it."
Stepping over a fallen wall and pieces of bright pink railing from what looked like a baby bed, Donna Morgan scanned the debris. She searched for a cream-colored photo album that the Mooneyhan family wanted for the couple's funeral service.
Morgan suddenly jumped, reeled back and gave out a squeal of laughter. She clasped a hand over her mouth, and tears ran down her face.
"Oh, my God," Morgan said as she bent to pick up Emily's dripping, muddy white bear with a pink nightcap and blanket. She hugged the stuffed toy to her chest.
Neighbor Dalton Jordan said the last time he saw the Mooneyhans was a few weeks ago at their home during Emily's birthday party.
"When I came out and saw Melissa and Michael, I knew they didn't make it," Jordan said. "Before search and rescue got here, we were out with flashlights, trying to help. There were no sounds coming from the trailer."
As Nashville Fire Department crews cleared debris, a sudden cry pierced the dark.
"The baby was in shock," Jordan said. "She hadn't made a sound until they started raising the trailer. She was just sitting there on her bottom, with the little pug dog sitting next to her. She was fragile, all muddy, but she was OK. The dog was OK."
On 10th Street, a few blocks from Sypert Street, Angela Miller pointed at the left side of her queen-sized bed. A large oak tree had crashed through the ceiling and crushed the bed.
"Just a minute before, I said I was going to go lay down. But my momma screamed from the back door and said, 'It's here,'" Miller said. "We got in the hallway."
A second tree fell into the living room.
Dustin Johnson said he was inside when he heard the warning sirens.
"I came outside, and the sky was bright-up green," he said. "It had quit raining. We don't usually get tornadoes here. We took off in the truck, and when it hit, the wind knocked us onto two wheels."
A National Weather Service team from the Shreveport station -- which monitors weather in nine counties in southwest Arkansas -- rated the tornado an EF2 with wind speeds reaching 135 mph, said meteorologist Cynthia Palmer.
The service issued a tornado warning for the area Sunday night after spotting rotation in a storm approaching Nashville on Doppler radar, Palmer said. Howard County deputies and other storm spotters also reported seeing funnel clouds.
Much of southwestern Arkansas had been placed under a tornado watch -- meaning conditions were favorable for tornadic-producing storms to develop -- for much of Sunday afternoon and evening.
Nashville Mayor Billy Ray Jones said the city's tornado sirens sounded about 20 minutes before the storm hit.
"We are lucky there were only two fatalities," he said. "It's pretty sad. The folks here come together, though."
Earlier Sunday, a tornado killed two people in Van, Texas, about 70 miles southeast of Dallas. Several others were reported missing, and rescue teams combed through the damage of smashed houses Monday.
The Mother's Day system in Arkansas was flanked by unusual weather. Up to 2 feet of snow fell in Colorado, and Tropical Storm Ana hit the North Carolina coast Sunday, the earliest date since 1952 that such an Atlantic storm made landfall.
Western Arkansas was deluged by heavy rains over the weekend, said National Weather Service hydrologist Tabitha Clarke of North Little Rock.
Six to 8 inches of rain fell in an area between Fort Smith and Clarksville, and southwest Arkansas saw 6 inches of rainfall, she said.
Heavy rains caused a large bluff to crumble and fall onto Interstate 40 north of Coal Hill in Johnson County on Sunday morning, said Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department spokesman Danny Straessle. There were no injuries reported in the landslide, but officials kept one westbound lane of the interstate closed while crews cleaned the debris.
"The bluff just slid off into the shoulder and road," Straessle said. "The ground was so saturated. There were mud, dirt and trees that sloughed down."
Fallen trees also forced the closure of U.S. 70 in Hot Spring County on Monday morning, he said.
In Franklin County, teams rescued six people who were trapped in vehicles during rising waters, said Fred Mullen, the Franklin County Office of Emergency Services coordinator.
Four people were in a vehicle that tried to cross Arkansas 23 near Turner's Bend in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. Rushing waters from the flooding Mulberry River trapped the car in about three to four feet of water, Mullen said.
Teams also rescued two people caught in a camper trailer when the Mulberry rose quickly.
The Mulberry River rose from 1.6 feet on Saturday to 16.4 feet by Sunday morning. It receded to 12 feet early Monday, but rose again to 15.5 feet later Monday when more rains fell.
"We were lucky," Mullen said. "No one was hurt badly. Some of the boys in the car were bruised, but they were OK."
Roads in Johnson County remained underwater Monday, making travel and assessments difficult, said Josh Johnston, the Johnson County Office of Emergency Services coordinator.
"We've got quite a bit of water everywhere," he said. "We had to have over 8 inches of rain during the weekend."
He said deputies helped evacuate homes in the Hunt community northwest of Clarksville due to rising waters Saturday evening.
"There are some areas we can't get to because of the water," he said. "Hopefully, we'll have a 24-hour break before the next rains that will let the creeks back down."
In Crawford County, deputies were searching for a man officials said was last seen swimming in an area off Arkansas 282 known as the "Grotto Hole."
A dispatcher said a woman reported the man "missing" after the two were swimming. He said dive teams had not found the person as of Monday evening.
The rising Arkansas River also forced the closure of the Toad Suck Park in Bigelow on Monday afternoon.
The river is expected to crest at nearly 277.5 feet at the Toad Suck Lock and Dam on Wednesday morning. Flood stage there is 275 feet.
Faulkner County Attorney David Hogue, the county's spokesman, said residents in low-lying areas near the river should take precautions in case of any breaches in the levee system that protects the area. He said the flooding is comparable to water levels seen in March and April of 2008.
The U.S Army Corps of Engineers also re-issued a small craft advisory for the Arkansas River. In Pine Bluff, the river rose nearly 10 feet in 24 hours and was expected to crest at 41.5 feet at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The river raged at 300,000 cubic feet per second Monday. Its normal flow rate is 50,000 cubic feet per second, Clarke said.
The river is expected to return to below-flood stage levels later this week, Clarke said. In Pendleton, near the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, the Arkansas River is expected to crest at 31.5 feet at 1 p.m. Thursday. Flood stage there is 31 feet.
"Fortunately, the Mississippi River is not high" Clarke said. "Everything from the Arkansas River will flush out."
The Arkansas River Trail in North Little Rock is closed between Big Rock Quarry and the Big Dam Bridge because of rising waters and is expected to remain closed for several days, a city spokesman said. Most of the trail could be under water by tonight, when the Arkansas River is projected to crest there at 21 feet.
Athletic fields at Burns Park are also closed because of flooding until further notice.
Information for this article was contributed by Jake Sandlin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Print Headline: EF2 tornado rips mobile home, kills 2