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story.lead_photo.caption Residents survey the damage Jan. 22, 1999, on Battery Street in Little Rock after a tornado hit the area the previous night. The tornado was part of the largest tornado outbreak in state history, with 56 twisters spawned in Arkansas over a 24-hour period.

Arkansas was battered by the largest tornado outbreak in the state's history 20 years ago.

Fifty-six tornadoes were spawned in Arkansas during a 24-hour period from Jan. 21-22, 1999, said Joe Goudsward, a National Weather Service meteorologist in North Little Rock. The tornadoes killed eight people and injured about 150.

It was a frightening night in the state. Sirens wailed and hail fell -- at times the size of baseballs and grapefruit.

"Numerous storms impacted Pulaski County so there was a long period of time with sirens going off," said Jeff Hood, a meteorologist with the weather service.

Hood was 10 years old at the time, playing in a basketball game that night at Holy Souls Catholic School in Little Rock.

"Being a little kid, it was a scary experience," Hood said.

Robin and Harry Loucks were siting down for supper at their home in Little Rock when they said simultaneously, "Does that sound like a train?"

"I jumped up and opened the door and saw all this debris flying past," said Robin Loucks.

They headed for the basement.

"It was over in minutes," she said. "It was heartbreaking to see the devastation. We lost so many historic structures."

Civil-rights activist Daisy Bates wasn't home that night, but the tornado took out the picture window in the front of her house at 1207 W. 28th St. and destroyed many of her belongings. It was the same window that was shattered by rocks, bricks and bullets during the 1957 battle over the integration of Central High School. Bates died later that year.

Ned Perme said it was the most memorable event of his 40-year career as a television meteorologist.

"I was on the air by myself for many, many hours," Perme said during an interview last year. "It was a very long day. You don't even think about the end. You just have to keep going. You have to get in the moment and get through it one minute and one hour at a time."

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado that hit Little Rock's historic section was tracked from Shannon Hills in Saline County.

"Several homes built at the turn of the 20th century were heavily damaged," according to the weather service.

"Even the governor's mansion was not spared, with a tree falling on a fence around the property. A grocery store was ripped apart as well. Three people were killed in the area."

Patricia Blick, executive director of the Quapaw Quarter Association in Little Rock, said the city recommended demolishing 71 residential and four commercial structures that were damaged by the storm.

"Even before the tornado, downtown Little Rock was struggling," she said. "It was challenged. The tornado hit. It was catastrophic."

But downtown is making a comeback, she said.

"People are investing in the neighborhood," Blick said. "Even though the tornado was catastrophic, it has not deterred interest in revitalization of our commercial and residential structures."

Buildings were destroyed in other Arkansas cities. In Beebe, a couple hundred people were attending a girls high school basketball game, according to the weather service. School officials stopped the game at halftime and the crowd left. A half-hour later, a tornado destroyed the gymnasium.

The January 1999 tornadoes tended to spin up along Interstate 30 and U.S. Highway 67/167 corridors, traveling from southwest to northeast -- from Texarkana through Clay County in the state's northeast corner.

The Little Rock office of the National Weather Service issued 48 tornado warnings, 80 severe thunderstorm warnings and 22 flash flood warnings during the January 1999 event.

At least eight of the tornadoes were rated F3, with wind speeds up to 206 miles per hour, Goudsward said. The strongest tornado was reported in Clay County. It was an F4, with wind speeds up to 260 mph.

Most of the tornadoes were produced between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 21

Goudsward said tornadoes are counted when they touch the ground. If they lift back up, travel two miles, and touch the earth again, that's counted as a second tornado.

If one tornado stays on the ground for 50 miles, it's counted as one tornado, Goudsward said.

The previous Arkansas record for one outbreak was 34 tornadoes on June 5, 1916, according to the weather service.

Other records broken by Arkansas' January 1999 tornadoes include:

• Most tornadoes in a state on any day in January. The previous record was 13 tornadoes in Alabama on Jan. 10, 1975, and Tennessee on Jan. 24, 1997.

• Most tornadoes on one day in January. The previous record was 39 tornadoes on Jan. 10, 1975, in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas.

• Most tornadoes in any state in the month of January. The previous record was 25 tornadoes in Texas in 1998.

A Section on 01/22/2019

Print Headline: State marks 20 years since 56-twister barrage


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  • TuckerMax
    January 22, 2019 at 5:50 a.m.

    Be more specific: The pharmacist in the grocery store at Main & 17th died when the building collapsed. It was more than a year before the store was replaced. Dozens of huge trees in McArthur Park were downed. Beautiful homes from Chester & Roosevelt to East Ninth in Little Rock were damaged or destroyed.

  • Marie1942
    January 22, 2019 at 9:01 a.m.

    Still remember it like it was yesterday. I lived on W 28th street a few houses away from Daisy Bates. I had just gotten home with my 2 daughters and 6 month old son. Within 10 minutes of arriving home, we cut on channel 7 to track the weather. Our ears started popping almost simultaneously. We were like WTH? My daughter ran up front to look out the window and all she saw was large pieces of debris flying down W 28th St. off MLK. I hit and I mean hard. We all jumped into my large closet and it sounded like 100 freight trains. Our entire house was rocking back and forth. The scariest part was seeing and hearing the power lines popping...then complete darkness. Then you could hear it trailing off. After that, there was a eerie silence. It tore a diagonal path up through the neighborhood went across arch and on down to the grocery store. I think it went a bit further before finally disintegrating. My house sustained some damage, but a few were demolished.

  • abb
    January 22, 2019 at 9:09 a.m.

    My parents used to live down in the quawpaw quarter. Tornado destroyed areas south of 19th and Arch. Sad to see the looting at the store immediately after, people crawling over the mortally wounded security guard to get to the pharmacy. Losing those big trees changed the look of the area. Lots of damage. James Lee Witt and Bill Clinton stopped buy and came in for coffee when we stopped our cleanup. Chatted with us a while. But he had a date with the black church at 20th and Arch and he was on his way. That guy was something else. Smart, charming, and knew how to work the crowds. Fun guy to have a beer with, I'd surmise.

  • GeneralMac
    January 22, 2019 at 9:55 a.m.

    Tuckermax........."MacArthur Park "

  • MaxCady
    January 22, 2019 at 12:12 p.m.

    Why do you think they call him Slick Willie?