Leader Blues

Saturday, April 05, 2008

TOP STORY > > Residents survey damage

Leader staff

An all-night-long storm brought tornadoes, high winds, rain and hail to central Arkansas on Thursday night, damaging homes, businesses and area schools and causing power outages in many areas.

The storm cut a path of damage through Sherwood, Gravel Ridge and Cabot and sent the son of the Austin mayor to the hospital.

Jacksonville and Beebe escaped with minimal damage.

Late Friday, Gov. Beebe declared Pulaski County a disaster area, along with several other counties.

The storm damaged Syl-van Hills High School, middle school and elementary school. Classes were cancelled there Friday, as well as at Northwood Middle School and Cato Elementary, both in northern Pulaski County, because of flooding.

Cabot and Lonoke schools were also closed Friday because of damage and power outages.

As of Friday evening, Westside Elementary School was still without electricity, according to Cabot Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman; seven other campuses were without electricity until after lunch Friday.

But Cabot High School was another story.

“It was our worst situation. Even with power, the high school would not have been open because there was so much damage,” Thurman said.

Part of the roof on the new two-story high school structure was peeled back during the storm, he said. It was patched during the day in preparation for classes on Monday.

There were also numerous windows broken out, trees knocked over and awnings blown down at the high school as well. The roof of the Panther Stadium press box was also slightly damaged.

The industrial-technology building (the former CHAMPS Hall) also received slight roof damage but there was no flooding to the rooms and everything was salvaged, Thurman said.

Thurman said he was at the high school campus until 2:30 a.m. Friday helping to clear debris.

Driving along Hwy. 138 in the storm Thursday night, Sammy Chamberlain, the son of Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain, had a flying four-by-four fence post and a two-by-four crash through the windshield of his vehicle. The four-by-four struck him in the eye.

“I’ve been up all night at the hospitals,” Bernie Chamberlain said Friday afternoon. She said Sammy was first taken to North Metro in Jacksonville and then to UAMS in Little Rock. He was released late Friday and will be all right.

John Rehrauer, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, said there was some damage to homes, mostly from falling trees, in Kellogg Acres and where Brockington meets Hwy.107.

The damage is pretty significant, Rehrauer said. “We worked through the night and some reserves joined us this morning.

He said the county road and bridge department helped with heavy lifting. The Office of Emergency Services used portable lights to illuminate the intersection at Hwy. 107 and Jacksonville Cato Road in Gravel Ridge.

As the storm roared through Cabot, it toppled trees, blew out windows, damaged roofs, cars and other property.

“We heard the wildest winds,” said Betty Pacheco, who lives on South Second Street in Cabot.

She hid under the home’s stairwell with her son Tony, daughter Sheena and granddaughter Kayla. “The sirens were good and loud. We covered up with pillows and put a motorcycle helmet on Kayla’s head,” Pacheco said.

After the storm passed, “I opened the front door and a tree was there to greet me.”

A resident at 601 S. Grant in Cabot looked out of her door and said, “Our power is out, our phone is out. We have two small children, and we’re cold.”

Brockinton Auto Sales in Cabot suffered about $100,000 in damage to vehicles on the lot, as well as another $50,000 in damage to the property. About 12 cars were totaled and another 10 were lightly damaged, according to co-owners Charles Brockington and son Chuck Brockington.

“We’re back,” said Chuck Brockinton. “We had to hook up a generator, and as you can see, the neon sign says open. We have about 10 or 15 cars that are temporarily not for sale.”

Chuck Brockinton said that insurance will cover most of the damage and that it “probably won’t be a major loss.”

“We’re gonna bounce back fast,” he said.

Bob’s Garage, located on First Street, was one of the lucky ones.

Owner Bob Polantz said his business did not suffer damage, but several power lines were down and a storage building across the street was demolished. “We were in the bathroom [of our house],” said Polantz. “We heard it roaring.”

Traffic rolled nonstop both ways on Hwy. 367 in Cabot Friday afternoon as residents tried to see the damage from the apparent tornado that hit the edge of the city.

Most visible from the highway was the awning and sign at Brockinton Auto Sales that was knocked down, strewn across the parking lot and wrapped around several of the vehicles on the lot. Farther down the highway toward the Hwy. 5 interchange, Mags Trucking was heavily damaged while the now defunct Bancroft Cap Company sustained minor damage.

Beside Dreamline, a mattress factory, the wind picked up several mini-storage buildings and scattered them in the neighborhood across the street from the factory, but left the contents behind, barely disturbed.

One of the buildings flew high enough to clear 90-foot high trees before crashing into the top of the house at No. 2 Sharon Cove. Kevin Beers, a UALR student who lives there with his family, said the building protruded through the roof into his bedroom, the hallway and the bathroom. The family was in the hallway when it landed, he said.

Barbara Pruitt at 15 Stacy Street found her backyard shed overhanging her inground pool after the storm had passed.

“Someone said it gave a new meaning to pool house,” Pruitt said.

Mobile homes on First Street also were heavily damaged from trees that broke from the wind. But Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and
Alderman Ed Long both pointed out that no one in Cabot was injured, not even slightly.

“God was watching out for us,” Long said.

In Ward, several mobile homes were damaged from wind, falling limbs and falling trees. The affected areas include Black Oak Circle, Margie Lane, Palm Drive, Emily Circle and Moon Road.

Flooding was expected in Lonoke County “at the usual places,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman, but most of the damage was confined to Cabot, where county workers and equipment helped the city Friday.

“We had a couple of dump trucks, a backhoe and all the men we could turn out,” Troutman said.

Even though a number of tornadoes were reported, the weather service has not yet confirmed how many, except for a pair that hit the Benton-Bryant area Friday night as the storms starting thundering through the area.

According to John Robinson, with the National Weather Service, the pair of EF2 tornadoes traveled along a path from just northeast of Benton to 2.2 miles northwest of Bryant. The storm also dropped two to three inches of rain over most of central Arkansas. An EF2 tornado packs winds of 111 to 135 miles per hour and can cause considerable damage.

At the North Little Rock Airport, where a possible tornado touched down, a single-engine Cessna lay on its nose against a fuel truck near the runway Friday morning. The winds also tore into one metal-sided hangar and cut across the runway heading northeast.

The storm was so close to the National Weather Service building there that the weather official had to head for shelter from the storm. Wind gusts of 64 miles per hour were clocked at the NWS building, the second highest gusts ever recorded there.

Entergy Arkansas spokesman James Thompson said there were 38,500 customers without power Friday morning. That included 18,500 in the Little Rock area, 8,200 in the Jacksonville and Cabot areas, 9,300 in Hot Springs and 1,300 in Faulkner County.

Thompson said it might be late Sunday before all the power is restored.

First Electric Cooperative said it had 8,500 customers out in central Arkansas because of the storm.

By late Friday that number had fallen to less than 7,000. In the Gravel Ridge and Jacksonville area of Pulaski County, there were still 835 homes without power Friday.

Thompson said numerous power poles were broken by the high winds and that numerous lines were down.

“It’s going to be a long weekend,” Thompson said. The utility had made arrangements Thursday with neighboring states to send line crews in anticipation of the bad weather.

Leader staff writers John Hofheimer, Heather Hartsell and Joan McCoy contributed to this report.