Tornado, floods kill 7 in Arkansas
VILONIA, Ark. - A tornado tore through a small central Arkansas town, killing four people and leaving the governor wondering Tuesday how so many others managed to survive. The night of brutal storms killed at least seven people in the state.
Rescue crews combed the tornado-battered wreckage of Vilonia and parts of nearby Garland County where some people were still unaccounted for after the powerful storm struck late Monday.
"We still at this time have people trapped in homes that have not been reached because of downed power poles and storm damage," Garland County emergency management coordinator Joy Sanders said.
Garland County sheriff's spokesman Judy Daniell said an 8-month-old baby was sent to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock with a head injury, but that no other major injuries have been reported in the area.
Crews are double-checking homes to make sure there are no more victims, Daniell said.
The tornado tore through the heart of Vilonia, ripping the roof off its grocery store, flattening homes, tossing vehicles into the air and twisting one tractor-trailer like a wrung dish rag.
Four people died when the tornado slammed the town, but rescuers said all other residents have been accounted for in the rural community of about 3,800.
Gov. Mike Beebe visited Vilonia, some 25 miles north of Little Rock, early Tuesday.
He said he was surprised that more people were not killed by the twister, especially considering the breadth of the damage.
"If it's one tornado, it appears to be pretty wide," Beebe said.
Faulkner County spokesman Stephan Hawks said the infrastructure in and around Vilonia was badly damaged.
"One of the hardest hit things is the utilities. It tore down power lines for, gosh, I'd guess a mile or so. It snapped overhead poles like they were toothpicks. It's pretty devastating," Hawks said. "It was a heck of a little tornado."
The National Weather Service office in North Little Rock sent survey teams Tuesday morning to Vilonia, some 25 miles north of Little Rock, and to nearby Garland County. The teams will investigate the damage and assess how much of it was caused by tornadic or straight-line winds.
John Robinson, a weather service warning coordination meteorologist, said it could take days to survey all the damage tracks from Monday's storms.
"It wouldn't surprise me if we were to end up with a count of 10 or 12 tornadoes by the time all the surveys are completed," Robinson said.
The storm also caused damage at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Ark., and in Polk County. Authorities canceled classes at the storm-battered North Pulaski High School near Jacksonville. Schools in other parts of the state told students to stay home because of flooding and storm damage.
Rescuers in Garland County battled to reach areas that were cut off late Monday by the flooding.
Garland County emergency management coordinator Joy Sanders said crews used boats to rescue people from storm-damaged areas.
"It's difficult this early on to find out what really has happened," said Sanders, who noted that rescuers have thus far relied on reports from residents who speculated about which of their neighbors may have been home when the storm swiped the region.
National Guard troops were also in Garland County to help clear uprooted trees and snapped utility poles.
"It looks like we got run over three or four times," Sanders said.
Flooding also led to the death of at least three people in the northwest corner of the state, where raging waters swept vehicles from the roads, according to officials in Washington and Madison counties.
Several rivers in northeast Arkansas topped flood stage, with waters spreading over mainly agricultural land. City Hall in Hardy was evacuated in anticipation of the floodwaters, as were homes along the Spring River, even though most were built on 10-foot pilings.
Roads in and out of the area were impassable due to flood waters.