Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

TOP STORY > >People reach out after storms

Leader staff writers

When the small town of Carlisle was hit by a tornado last Friday, friends and neighbors in the area gathered together and quickly set up their own disaster-relief center and feeding stations.

In a demonstration of true Christian charity and interdenominational bonhomie, the folks at Carlisle’s Immanuel Baptist Church, First Methodist Church and St. Rose’s Catholic Church and a large group of volunteers from Lonoke Presbyterian Church, gathered their forces together to feed and nourish those affected by the storm, as well as those who came to Carlisle to help by cutting up downed trees and limbs, clearing lots and gathering debris.

Emmett Powers, pastor of Lonoke Presbyterian Church, said, “It’s a real joy to do this and give hope to people who’ve been through so much.”

He said his church volunteers, who arrived in a mobile feeding-station truck equipped with tables, chairs, a long canopy, cooking equipment and utensils, can feed 100 to 150 people an hour.

“Three hundred meals in a day is typical for this group,” he said, as Alex Fletcher, Shane Hamilton and Bill Shinn stirred up an industrial-sized pot of mashed potatoes to accompany the hundred or so pork chops they were preparing for supper. (See editorial, p. 14A.)
The truck was purchased with $25,000 donated by St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Minnesota. Powers and a group of volunteers from his church have shown up to help each time this year a tornado has struck in Arkansas — Mountain View, Clinton, Atkins, Damascus and Gassville.

The group has also responded in areas that were flooded this spring.

Powell said Lutheran Social Services (which donated the money for the truck) often stays on the scene of a disaster long after FEMA has left, said Powers, who serves as director of the disaster response team for the Arkansas Presbytery.

He thanked Bill Cunningham and other volunteers who came to help from St. Rose’s.
Immanuel Baptist opened its doors to help those left without shelter and prepared food for those who needed to eat.


Carlisle was left without power after the storm and because of downed lines, power was not restored until Saturday evening. A nighttime curfew imposed Friday night was lifted Sunday morning.

National Weather Service radar and professional tornado watchers alerted the town in plenty of time for everyone to take cover. Three tornadoes were sighted, but only one touched down inside Carlisle.

In the 25 years that Carlisle Police Chief Eric Frank has lived in town, he hadn’t been through a tornado, even though the city is in the part of Arkansas referred to by natives as “tornado alley.” That changed on Friday when the F1 storm blew through town at more than 100 miles per hour. No one was injured.

Alderman Brent Doney, the city’s emergency manager, said the storm which came in just before 1 p.m., was four city blocks wide, cutting a path a mile across the city from southwest to the northeast just nicking the edge of the school’s awning as it left town.

“At 12:15, I saw a tornado come up over town, a narrow rope that never hit,” Doney said.

Then 30 or 40 minutes later, he saw a “rain-wrapped huge circle” with windspeeds he guessed were the equivalent of an F1 or F2 storm come in at the southwest corner of Carlisle cutting a path of damage which included the city’s fire station and a business at the corner of Hwy. 70 and Greenlaw. The business, an automotive garage, may be a total loss.


Doney said he suspects the fire station will need to be rebuilt as the tornado bent and twisted the structure’s supporting beams. When the warnings came in, Doney said firemen scattered the trucks throughout the city to prevent damage.

Doney said everyone was grateful there were no injuries in spite of extensive damage and he commended Lonoke Presbyterian Church volunteers who, he said, “rolled in right away.”

Carlisle Police Chief Eric Frank said that he didn’t hear the tornado, didn’t hear the train sound. His main concern was getting the students out of the school once the tornado passed and left downed trees and power lines in its wake. “We got them out.

Thankfully, it went right over the school,” he said.

Three hours after the tornado hit, the chief and Doney had a command post set up in the middle of Main Street in front of the damaged Carlisle Fire Department.

Kathy Zasimovich from the office of emergency management in Lonoke was already there and volunteer disaster teams from Cabot were out with chainsaws to cut up trees that had fallen on houses. “We had to tell them to stop cutting up the trees,”

Zasimovich said. “The power company shut down the electricity to the area in Little Rock, but would not say it’s safe until they are able to come out themselves.”


Henry McDonald of Cabot was sitting on a tree that had fallen over his mother-in-law’s home.

“I had to come down quick. My son was in that school,” he said, pointing to a red-headed boy. “This tree would’ve been gone if they hadn’t stopped those guys with the chainsaws. But we’re lucky. Only the carport was damaged.”

At 6 a.m. Saturday, Carlisle awoke to the sound of chainsaws. Crews from West Tree Service and Entergy arrived and got to work.

“We’re not positive that everything is dead,” said Ricky Felton, West Tree Service crew chief. “You have to be careful of backfeed. A tree could lay across a dead wire and a live wire, and that will make the dead wire live too. We get in there as soon as the power guys tell us it’s safe.”

Chris Hunt agreed with his boss and said, “And we can turn on the power as we go as soon as we get things cleared and rewired.”

As he spoke, Larry McKinny started his chainsaw and started to work on a downed tree, sawdust fanning in an arc.

Police Chief Eric Frank was on traffic duty, directing cars away from the Entergy crew that was running new wire across Court St. with two cherry pickers. Mitch Duncan would attach the wiring to his post, then Wayne Wright would attach his side and fasten everything down.

“This is the third time I’ve been called out for tornadoes,” said Thomas Bynum, an Entergy lineman who lives in Hot Springs.

“This time, I was told to pack for five,” meaning he could expect to be on this particular job for five days.

Back at the command post, Zasimovich pointed out the progress made so far. “That huge pile of wood chips over there was done by the inmates from the Tucker detention center. There are 50 trucks from the tree service and Entergy here restoring the power. I’m here to help if there is anything they need that they don’t have.”


Carlisle Mayor Ray Glover sat down at a picnic table Saturday and looked down his city’s Main Street.

“There’s no business as usual here,” he said.

“The hardest hit was the Eastwood Subdivision, Third and Fourth Streets, and Second all in the middle of town. A third of the town is without power,” Glover said Saturday.

“The fire station may have to be torn down and rebuilt because of bent support beams. Thankfully, the school wasn’t damaged at all.”

Driving through East-wood, Zasimovich pointed out the areas hardest hit. “One home’s roof was lifted off and set down right in its back yard,” she said. “We can’t get to it now, there’s trees blocking the road. You have to see it to believe it. ”

“The governor and FEMA will be here on Monday and we can start getting things back together. FEMA will help us get the town’s infrastructure back together and help the people too,” Glover said from Carlisle’s command post.

“There are a lot of people I’d like to thank, “ the mayor said. “Those I’ve already mentioned and the rest on this list.”

Caroline Baptist Disaster Relief, Presbyterian Relief Ministry, the city of Lonoke, the Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief, Des Arc
Police and Fire, the England police, Faith Baptist Church, the Hazen police and Mayor Mike Watson of Maumelle were among others Glover mentioned.

“We’ll be back to business as usual because of them,” he said.