Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

TOP STORY >> Rippin’ Rita packs punch

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

A storm survivor tells of ordeal in his mobile home.
An F-2 tornado smacked Mike Hale upside the head with the door of his mobile home Saturday evening, blew the home to smithereens, spewing debris everywhere, and left Hale momentarily dazed about 30 feet away under a piece of wall.

Tornadoes spun off from Hurricane Rita also destroyed four other Lonoke County homes and left about 60,000 Arkansas Entergy customers — about 2,560 of them on the Jacksonville network — without power for several hours on Saturday night and Sunday.

Power had yet to be restored to some El Dorado and Magnolia area customers Tuesday, according to David Lewis, Entergy Arkansas spokesman.

Hale said that one second he was walking down the hall of his Lonoke County mobile home, the next he was outside, on the ground.

“The rain hit my face and I had dirt in my eyes,” the 45-year-old welder said Tuesday afternoon. “That was one wild ride. I was so glad to be alive. It was like a rodeo.

“I never heard anything,” added Hale, whose injuries were limited to a few bruises.
Hale said he was insured for the balance he owed on the mobile home, but that was probably the limit.
Will he live in a mobile home again?

“I got to get another trailer. I’m a poor boy and now I’m really poor, I lost it all,” he said. “I’d like to live in an earth (sheltered) home right now.”

Hale’s currently living next door with friends and his truck is in the shop with minor damage.
Meanwhile, high winds and 5.5 inches to 8 inches of rain Saturday ruined as much as 15 percent of the Lonoke County cotton crop and left much of the rest of it degraded according to Coy-area farmer Laudies Brantley.

Those high winds and heavy rains were likely responsible for three accidents on I-40 between the Kerr Road exit and Lonoke, according to Jimmy DePriest, Lonoke County Director of Emergency Services.
DePriest said the National Weather Service had identified the winds that destroyed or badly damaged property as an F-2 tornado.

“The people I talked to had insurance,” said DePriest. “They are talking with their insurance companies.” He said most of those from the destroyed homes were staying with friends or relatives, but he said one was being put up in an area motel by the American Red Cross.

There also was damage to a roof and a shed at a home northwest of Jacksonville near Republican Road.
Generally the uninsured damage in a county must exceed $120,000 before the county qualifies for federal relief, said DePriest.

He said Wayne Ruthven, director of the Arkansas Depart-ment of Emergency Manage-ment, would combine damage reports from Lonoke, White and Faulkner counties to qualify for the relief.

Most of the areas losing power were in the southern half of the state, Lewis said, with the hardest-hit areas being El Dorado, Little Rock, Stuttgart, Magnolia and the Jacksonville network pretty high up on the list.

The Jacksonville network includes the Cabot area and part of Lonoke.
DePriest confirmed that the Entergy network in Lonoke was down Saturday night, while the First Electric Cooperative customers across the street had power.

Bad luck brought the tornadoes to central Arkansas, but good luck followed, according to Entergy’s Lewis.
Although Entergy had sent all available linemen and equipment south to help with the relief efforts in Louisiana, Mississippi or Texas, a caravan of contract repair crews en route to Texas was passing through just as the storms hit Arkansas, he said.

That enabled the utility to respond with ample resources, he said.
The Pulaski County Office of Emergency Management kept busy Saturday evening following up on reports of damage and tornadoes, but the damage was pretty much limited to downed tree limbs and power lines, according to Kathy Botsford, director.

Little Rock Air Force Base reported no storm-related damage.