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story.lead_photo.caption Michelle Corbin (left) instructs residents of Myranda’s Place Apartments on how to sign up for assistance from the American Red Cross and other agencies after Wednesday night’s tornado in Pine Bluff. - Photo by Dale Ellis

PINE BLUFF -- Residents spent Thursday salvaging what belongings they could after the roof of their apartment complex collapsed Wednesday evening during an EF1 tornado that left about 120 people without shelter.

Emergency workers from Pine Bluff, Jefferson County and surrounding areas converged on Myranda's Place Apartments after the tornado struck about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. A roof was blown off one apartment unit, walls collapsed in two others, a roof caved in on another, and tree limbs and power lines were strewn throughout the parking lots.

Rescue workers spent more than an hour freeing people trapped in the wreckage. Four people were taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center for treatment of their injuries. One was held overnight, and the three others were treated and released, according Fire Chief Shauwn Howell.

Weather officials confirmed Thursday that a tornado with winds reaching 110 mph touched down briefly.

"It was a very small path, only about 2.6 miles long and only about 100 yards wide," said Joe Goudsward , a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock. "It was a pretty quick shot."

Goudsward said the tornado had a small enough signature on radar that it wasn't confirmed until a weather service ground crew surveyed the damage Thursday.

"We did have some rotation, mainly to the north of it," he said. "I wouldn't say there was no indication of it, but it was a very subtle feature, if it was there."

Sheridea Woods was visiting her mother and was sitting in her car at the complex when the storm hit.

"I was trying to close my car door and it wouldn't let me, so I tried to use both hands and it wouldn't let me," Woods said. "I got out of the car and tried to go upstairs, but the wind was blowing me and I had to hold on to the rails."

Gallery: Pine Bluff storm damage

Woods said she was able to reach the top of the stairs but the wind blew her back down to the bottom.

"I held on to the pole that was on the side," she said. "That went on for about 30 seconds, and then it calmed so I ran inside. There was debris just flying everywhere. So, when I got into the house everything was leaking. We looked outside and we realized that it was a tornado. It had to have been."

Woods said her mother's apartment was heavily damaged, but no one in the apartment was injured.

"Just scared, that's all," Woods said. "She's fine, but she lost everything."

Donny Randle Jr., the apartment complex's manager, spent the better part of Thursday comforting residents, arranging firefighter escorts for them to gather personal belongings from their apartments and getting contact information from residents.

Randle said he was working to establish security arrangements while cleanup efforts are underway.

"We're figuring that out on the go," he said. "The sheriff's department was out here last night, and as long as the electrical crews are out here I'm going to assume they'll help with that. We're going to go through and board everything up and secure it as best as possible ourselves."

Randle said he didn't know how long it will be before residents are allowed to return to their homes.

Leah Ellis said she was sitting on the sofa in her living room when she heard what sounded like trucks screeching.

"I got up off my couch and looked through the window, and I saw two black whirls that looked like fists," Ellis said. "I ran to the bathroom and got into the tub in a fetal position."

Ellis said she heard crashing and then things quieted down. She waited 5 minutes to make sure the storm had passed before going outside, where she discovered that a retaining wall and the roof had collapsed into her living room and onto the sofa where she had been sitting.

"If I wouldn't have heard it, I probably would have gotten crushed by the ceiling," Ellis said.

Mayor Shirley Washington thanked first responders and organizations like the American Red Cross on Thursday for their response Wednesday night.

"Together as a community, we will make right what is wrong, repair what is broken and heal what is injured," Washington said. "The city of Pine Bluff will recover."

Alderman Win Trafford said Thursday evening that Entergy Arkansas crews were working to repair power lines and city officials are trying to figure out how to help the families who can't go home.

"We are working hard on getting them all temporary housing or, for some who won't be able to come back, finding them permanent housing," Trafford said.

He said the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and several faith-based organizations were helping to provide for hotel rooms and other accommodations.

Trafford said it will be a struggle for the city if cleanup continues for an extended period of time.

"We would have to dig deep and get very creative," he said. "We'll end up reaching out to other people, and fortunately we've got plenty of good people and businesses who have been willing to step up to the plate in times like these."

Storms raked south Arkansas on Wednesday and included a possible tornado that caused damage in Columbia County along the Louisiana border.

Ground crews from the National Weather Service in Shreveport will likely visit Columbia County today to survey damage and determine whether a tornado was the cause, according to Marty Maymeaux, a meteorologist with the weather service in Shreveport.

Maymeaux said a tornado warning was issued Wednesday afternoon for south Arkansas.

"It was radar-indicated," he said. "So although we haven't confirmed it, we assume there was some rotation in that storm that could potentially be a tornado, but until we go out there and look at it we can't officially say it was a tornado."

National Weather Service forecasters predict that Arkansas will see another round of heavy rainfall today and Saturday. Flash flooding will be the primary threat, and strong thunderstorms are possible Saturday.

Photo by Dale Ellis
Debris litters the parking lot Thursday morning at Myranda’s Place Apartments in Pine Bluff after a tornado blew through Wednesday night, ripping the roof off the complex.

State Desk on 05/10/2019

Print Headline: PHOTOS/VIDEO: Weather service confirms EF1 tornado touchdown at Arkansas apartments

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