TOP STORY >> A church feels fury of area's twisters
Leader staff writer
Debra Betts of Searcy was finishing up the church bulletin at West View Missionary Baptist Church on Hwy. 36 about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday when she first heard the sounds that a violent storm was outside.
“I’m sorry, but it didn’t sound like a train,” Betts said. “It was just different.”
Regardless of the sound, the aftermath proved what Betts heard was a tornado.
After an afternoon cookout at the church, Betts decided to stay to work on the bulletin at the west end of the building. After receiving a cell phone call from her husband telling her about the tornado warning, Betts noticed it had become eerily quiet. Then she began to hear faint noises.
“The building started shaking so I went to the bathroom then the lights went out,” Betts said, adding she prayed that the church and the surrounding neighbors would be spared.
After a few moments, Betts tried to open the bathroom door but it was stuck tight from the air pressure.
“I heard this sound, like a big sigh of relief,” Betts said.
She left the bathroom and made her way to the front of the church. Windows were broken and one of the double doors was missing off the front of the building. Her 1985 Chevrolet van had been scooted around onto the sidewalk.
“People have asked me if I was scared and really I wasn’t because I didn’t hear anything,” Betts said. “When I got home I was a little shaken but I had some ice cream therapy.”
West View Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Jess Burkett spent most of Monday and Tuesday assessing the damage.
“What the wind didn’t damage, the rain did,” Burkett said. “We’re trying to clean up our pews and get them into storage.”
Rain dripped through the damaged roof, soaking insulation in the ceiling that dripped down walls into the church’s rooms.
Church officials do not yet know the dollar amount of the damage.
“It will probably be three weeks or more before we know the cost of the repairs,” Burkett said.
Sunday services were held at neighboring Bethel Missionary Baptist Church at 2504 W. Pleasure Ave. and will continue to be while the church looks for a building to have services in during the time it will take to repair the damage to the church building.
“We want to pray for our neighbors around the church that had much greater losses than we did,” Burkett said.
The tornado was a Fujita Scale F-2 and was spawned by Hurricane Rita making landfall along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. It touched down at Honey Hill Road off Hwy. 36 in Searcy.
The National Weather Service estimates it had a sustained 155-mph wind that cut a 9-mile long, half-mile wide path of destruction from Honey Hill Road northwest to Whid Brown Lane where the twister dissipated.
The Fujita Scale ranks tornadoes from F-0, classified as a gale tornado with 40 to 70 mph winds, up to F-6, classified as an inconceivable tornado with 319 to 379 mph winds. Saturday’s F-2 tornado was classified as significant meaning it had 113 to 179 mph winds.
“We filed for White County to be declared a disaster area by the governor’s office Monday,” White County Judge Bob Parrish said.
“Remember if a tornado comes to Arkansas, it comes to White County,” he said, summarizing the county’s history with tornadoes.
Parrish credits the White County Office of Emergency Services with coordinating a quick response to the twister.
“I think our crews did an outstanding job. We had personnel out to the area ten minutes after the tornado struck,” Parrish said.
White County road crews will help pick up debris from along the roadsides in the area.
Tamara Jenkins, deputy coordinator for the White County Office of Emergency Services, said about 20 homes sustained damage. She estimates that about six of those homes sustained extensive damage.
“We had no injuries which was fantastic,” Jenkins said. “Public safety is our first priority after a storm. We make sure everyone is safe and found,” Jenkins said.
Volunteer firefighters, first responders and employees from the White County Sheriff’s Department spread out across the area to check for injuries.
Currently the White County Office of Emergency Services is working with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Man-agement to help the underinsured and the non-insured residents get financial assistance for property damages.
“We put out 11 warnings and have verified five tornadoes,” said Joe Goudsward, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Little Rock.
Storms over the weekend dumped 3.21 inches of rain at the Searcy Airport, making a small dent in the 7- to 9-inch rainfall deficit for the year.