Leader Blues

Friday, August 07, 2009

TOP STORY >> Stormy weather Hurricane-force winds hit many areas

Leader staff reports

The storm early Wednesday morning was as sudden as it was surprising.

Sirens and emergency telephone calls woke up thousands of area residents who were often too dazed to seek shelter.

Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

Wednesday’s storms caused thousands to lose power as winds knocked down trees and power lines.

Residents in Beebe and Ward were busy picking up branches and cutting downed trees into sections.

A path of destruction could be seen on Hwy. 31 in Lonoke County between Hwy. 38 and Hwy. 321 Spur.

Carla Horton, who lives on North Hwy. 31 in Lonoke County, said the storm woke her family up during the predawn hours.

“We heard the winds and the storm died down. Then it sounded like a trunk was being drug across the floor,” Horton said.

Horton said a truck bedliner was stored inside a dog pen near their house. It was lifted up over the treetops and tossed into the neighboring field.

Carrol McGee runs a goldfish farm off North Hwy. 31. Two of his buildings received heavy damage from Wednesday morning’s storms. One building had the side peeled away. A shed partially collapsed when the structure’s wooden posts were shifted nearly seven feet. McGee said he was going to rebuild the farm.

McGee was examining the damage and said, “It was a small tornado. Straight (line) winds don’t do this. It picked John Allen’s (McGee’s neighbor) roof off his house. It had to have suction.”

The field near McGee’s farm had metal strewn about. There was a wooden 2-by-4 splintered board stuck deep into the ground.

A tornado or high winds peeled back the white metal roof over the front porch of the Southbend In and Out, about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, dropping it on the store roof, according to store owner William Alami.

“I got a call from ADT at 4:30 a.m. that somebody was playing with the front door,” Alami said.

The store was due to open at 5 a.m., and employees, including store manager Cindy Sutterfield, arrived just before Alami.

“Thank God there was no damage inside,” he said.

The electricity was out and the store closed all day, he said. Alami was waiting to hear from his insurance company. He said that between damage to the roof and loss of business for a day, he was out about $25,000.

“The biggest thing was trees and vehicles and sheds,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman. He said Butlerville, east of Ward, was hit pretty hard.

By Thursday late afternoon, Entergy still reported 63 active outages affecting 616 customers in Lonoke County. Most outages were clustered around Carlisle and lines were down south of there on state South Hwy. 13.

Straight-line winds of near hurricane force knocked down trees across White County early Wednesday. Some fell across Hwy. 16 and Hwy. 64 and at last count, five fell into homes.

Tamara Jenkins, White County Office of Emergency Services director, said Thursday that she is still surveying the damage, which is not extensive but is widespread, reaching from Pangburn in the north where wind speeds were estimated at 75 to 80 miles an hour to beyond Beebe in the south. Hurricane speed starts at 75 miles an hour.

The storm came from the north and took a relatively narrow path to the southwest, which is unusual since most storms travel from the southwest to the northeast, Jenkins said.

John Benick, from Pennsylvania, who was visiting relatives outside Beebe when the storm hit about 4 a.m., said he looked outside when he heard what he presumed was the wind making a high-pitched screaming sound and saw dark clouds that looked like they were almost sitting on the rooftops.

The power went off when the storm hit and was off for 12 hours or more.

Jenkins said Latona, south of Pangburn, was hit the hardest with trees down on several power lines. Because the damage was light, homeowners need not expect any sort of disaster relief, but in the interest of keeping accurate records, she is asking everyone with damage to their homes to call her office. That number is 501-268-4810.