HELPING HANDS: John Richards, Salvation Army Jonesboro shelter manager, stirs a pot of beans at the canteen site near Riverbend Park Sept. 28. The Salvation Army and other groups made their home in the area the week after the severe storms. Photo/Wulff
The severe storms that hit the tri-county area Sept. 22 and 23 sent many area residents fleeing from their homes in the path of tornadoes and rising flood waters, but the storms also brought many more into the area to help.
The storms brought 11 inches of rain to Hardy from Friday through Sunday, 7.35 inches on Saturday alone. With 5.64 inches of rain in Mammoth Spring during the weekend the Spring River swelled, causing widespread flooding in the flood plains.
The storms also brought tornadoes. One tornado was tracked eight miles from 4.5 miles southeast of Franklin to five miles south of Ash Flat, according to the National Weather Service. The F1 tornado had wind speeds reaching 110 mph. The tornado hit three homes near Dry Bone and Haars Creek roads, Sharp County Judge Joe Stidman said. A mobile home in the area rolled about 40 feet with the owner inside. He was not seriously injured. Hundreds of trees were snapped off or uprooted along the path.
Another tornado was tracked 13 miles from 5 miles east of Saddle to 1.8 miles east of Wirth, the service said. The F2 tornado had winds in excess of 140 mph. It destroyed a home and damaged 10 other structures including two barns. The winds overturned three stock trailers and snapped or downed hundreds of trees and power lines.
North Arkansas Emergency Response Group based in Mountain Home set up shop at Ash Flat Church of Christ the evening the storms hit to provide shelter and clothing to those displaced along with food for the victims and rescue workers. On Saturday alone, the group served over 1,000 meals.
"We go to all types of disasters," said Mickey Buchanan, disaster team manager. "We go to house fires, chemical spills, just about everywhere."
The Salvation Army made a home away from home at the edge of Riverbend Park on the banks of the Spring River outside Hardy soon after the flood waters began to recede.
In Riverbend about 150 to 200 trailers were damaged. Most owners will not receive assistance because the trailers are not their primary residences, said Pete Reilly, Sharp County emergency manager. There is no immediate assistance for property owners whose primary residences were not damaged, he said.
Buchanan said her group is working with 22 people in the area whose houses were destroyed. The homes are primary residences for about 20 of those people, she said.
Salvation Army Jonesboro Shelter Manager John Richards said the organization helped about 400 people from the area, providing food, clothing and bedding to those who were displaced by the flood.
The Salvation Army canteen set up at the edge of Riverbend Park each day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The North Arkansas Emergency Response Group joined them on Wednesday. Together the two groups served about 800 meals, Buchanan said.
"They had the canteen in from Jonesboro and we had the food," she said.
The group provided blankets, clothes and food and can also assist storm victims with furniture once they have another home, Buchanan said. The group left the area on Sunday.
"We can help get them about whatever they need," she said.
While the two groups were focused near Hardy, the Red Cross was assisting near Ash Flat, Reilly said. The group set up on Dry Bone Road.
The Red Cross paid for motel rooms and other necessities for some displaced residents, he said.
"It's winding down a little," said Reilly, who continues to assist the victims in every way possible. "We have a few still in motels."
The state can also help storm victims through a temporary housing assistance program and an individual family grant program through the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services, Reilly said. The grants can be up to $4,000, he said.
Judge Stidman said other crews from local churches are assisting in the cleanup in the county: Rocky Bayou Southern Baptist Response Team and the Disaster Assistance Team from First Landmark Missionary Church.
The storms also damaged two churches and a cemetery. The Deliverance Tabernacle, which was under construction, was severely damaged in the storms, Stidman said.
"It's permanently deformed," he said.
Campground Community Church was also damaged in the storms. The tornado damaged the roof of the building and the cemetery beside it, Stidman said.
Personnel with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management are assessing the damage in the county.
"I don't have a dollar figure yet," Stidman said.
Gov. Mike Huckabee declared the county a disaster area but Stidman is still waiting to see if the storm damage qualifies as a national disaster.
The state pays 35 cents on the dollar for qualified losses, damages to primary residences, Stidman said. The federal government pays 80 cents on the dollar.
The flood claimed two lives. Cecil "Jackie" Richardson, who was camping in Riverbend, was found Sept. 25 by cadaver dogs about 100 yards from the tree where he fell into the river. Richardson and his nephews climbed trees to escape the rising waters Saturday. He told his nephews he thought he was having a heart attack and fell.
Chris Bodkins, 16, drowned in Martin Creek Sept. 23. He and his stepfather and a friend were driving to assist in a rescue at a cabin on Martin Creek when the truck the three were in plunged into the creek. Everyone was able to escape out the truck windows except Bodkins. His body was found about 30 feet from the truck.
Reilly said although the flood and tornadoes caused major damage and two deaths, it doesn't compare to the flood in 1982.
In that flood 35 businesses were destroyed and the river was another 10 feet higher. The river went over Main Street in Hardy. This time the water didn't get past the railroad tracks.
In 1982 there was only one death reported, Reilly said. A Bono man went over the Ravenden bridge and was swept away. His body was found in Sharp County.