Unlucky Arkansas town struggles from tornado and then flood
Dozens of U.S. southern towns were devastated by tornadoes last month, and now some of the same are facing flooding from melting snow in Canada.
Sun, May 08 2011 at 10:56 AM
DISASTER: The Mississippi River flooding is devastating hundreds of thousands of acres of land, homes and lives. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
VILONIA, Arkansas - People are skittish in this small town of 3,000 residents.
On April 25, a nasty tornado touched down, leveling subdivisions, wrapping metal around trees like crepe paper and killing five people. In Black Oak Ranch Estates, more than 100 homes were destroyed.
Less than a week later, on May 1, the town was hit with flash flooding from the nearby Little Palarm Creek caused by heavy rains from a cold front that stalled over the state.
About 16 people had to be rescued from the Dove Creek neighborhood by the Arkansas National Guard.
Most of the houses that were flooded had already sustained some damage in the tornado.
Vilonia may be one of the unluckiest towns in America.
"This place has just been hit hard," said resident Julie Walker. "We've worked in the rain picking up. You get one pile done and there's another one."
The town is just one of dozens devastated by deadly tornadoes across the U.S. South last month. Now some of the same areas are facing flooding from melting snow coming down from Canada and the Upper Midwest along with torrential rains along tributaries and creeks like the one near Vilonia.
Walker was one of the "lucky" ones because she avoided the double disaster whammy. Her area was hard hit by the April tornado but avoided the flood.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, she and her husband collected debris from their yard. They were without power for five days and lost every tree in their backyard and two arbors. But their house, where they have lived for 15 years, survived with minimal damage.
That is not the case for some neighbors in Quail Hollow, where many homes had tarps on the roofs and windows were boarded up. Work crews hammer endlessly. Toys, molding pillows, even a treadmill, sit by brick mail boxes awaiting pick-up. When the tornado ripped off roofs, rain poured into the houses.
Some neighbors may be out of their homes for at least three months while repairs occur, Walker said.
"It's going to be a long time before things are back to normal," she said.
Adding insult to injury
Adding insult to injury, the beleaguered residents of Vilonia now face a third threat. Ten people have been arrested for looting of scrap metal and other things, according to a police dispatcher.
With commodity prices high, the copper wire and other metal is valuable to looters, who sell it for a lucrative return.
People are also angry at insurance adjusters, who either have not shown up at all or are trying to skimp on paying for damage in the community, residents said.
"Talk to anyone in town, and they'll have a story about someone trying to steal something or an insurance adjuster not helping them," said David Bowie, co-owner of J&D Supply Co. in Vilonia. "Guys are in town who don't live here, trying to get scrap metal to sell. They're taking copper wire. Some generators have been stolen from houses."
J&D Supply appeared to be the busiest place in town one recent day. A sign advertised: "We Are Sharpening Chain Saw Chains."
Even though the store was damaged by the tornado, Bowie and his co-owner, Jody Lawrence, opened three hours after the twister so people could buy supplies. They had no electricity so they wrote IOU's on pads of paper.
Since the tornado, churches and non-profit organizations have provided food in Vilonia. The last of the free, or minimal cost dinners, stop this weekend. Vilonia residents fear that the public will soon forget about their dire straits.
"You know how it is. New things happen, people forget you," said an elderly woman named Annie who sat on her mobile home's front porch. She did not want to give her last name because she lived alone.
(Editing by Greg McCune and Ellen Wulfhorst)
Copyright 2011 Reuters US Online Report Domestic News