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Hicks: Stories emerge from tornado recovery

Posted: May 15, 2014 - 3:03pm

VILONIA — In times of disaster, such as the April 27 tornado that hit Vilonia, reporters, both print and electronic, flock to the site to tell the stories. There’s a lot of picking and choosing regarding what will make it into the newspaper. Many stories are lost, not because they aren’t worthy of being told, but because they warrant few words or names aren’t confirmed.

In the recent aftermath of the tornado that devastated Vilonia and Mayflower, many of the stories I have heard aren’t very long, and I don’t have names for some of the people involved, but the stories are, indeed, just as powerful as if they were 21-inches in length.

Checking my notebook for the past two weeks, I found these notes:

• Two women have reportedly miscarried as a result of the tornado.

• A couple of firefighters were put on bed rest for a day — not because of injuries but because of pure exhaustion.

• A dog was found, wrapped in tin and with injuries, but reunited with owners.

• On the eve of the tornado, one woman’s brother committed suicide and she couldn’t attend services out of state.

• Families were afraid to leave their land for fear looters would take what little they had left.

• One family went to a distribution center four days after the tornado still covered with mud. They had been working almost around the clock.

• A Vilonia school bus driver stopped the bus and prayed with some children, who were very upset, when they witnessed the destruction for the first time.

• A Vilonia teacher took off her shoes and gave them to a tornado victim who was wearing a pair of mix-matched ones.

• A woman donated a new piano to the The Valley, a church that lost everything.

• A couple of volunteers lost their jobs because they didn’t go to work when they were told to do so.

• Some residents of Vilonia have trouble finding their way with landmarks being gone.

• VHS alumni are donating dollars to the Vilonia Disaster Recovery Alliance based on the number of years since they graduated high school. The Velvet Ridge Church of God took up an offering raising more than $12,000 to be given to Vilonia and Mayflower.

• A former English teacher and his Bentonville students donated gift cards to Vilonia. Miss Teen Vilonia Baylee Thorn spent a week after the tornado volunteering and spreading the message, “We are Eagles and Eagles soar.” Some Vilonia Elementary students brought their teachers presents on the first day of school following the tornado. Fourth graders at Vilonia Elementary School received a handmade bracelet and cards from fourth graders at Wooster Elementary.

• Students at VES played tornado during recess on the first day back and they had a safe room they made with their imaginations.

• A Vilonia church is planning to make an alter out of a mighty Oak that fell and hit a tombstone.

• More than 20 tons of animal food was donated to relief efforts in Vilonia.

One little three year old questioned why his house is broken and who did it. A little boy lost his baseball card collection. A basketball, autographed by the Harlem Globe Trotters, has been found.

• A gun safe, bolted to the floor, was picked up by the tornado and has not been found, but the photo of some twins who died at birth was found.

• One 11-year-old boy showed up at one of the distribution centers asking for one pair of shoes. He was wearing sandals three sizes too small.

• Volunteers had arms and faces burned due to working out in sun all day — all week.

• Glass was still protruding out of the arm of a woman two days after the tornado.

• Alice Larson of Vilonia, put out the word to tornado victims to label and drop off their laundry in her driveway and she would wash, fold and get it back to them. She found insulation in some pockets.

• New Haven Church in Paragould delivered 500 Buckets of Love to Point of Grace Church packed with essentials for survivors.

• 1,700 people were at Beryl Baptist Church the day after the tornado to help.

• One man set up at the Vilonia Fire Department and fixed flats free from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., for several days.

• Some two-day old kittens survived the tornado in a house that was demolished.

• 17 houses on Cemetery Street were wiped out.

• 40 American flags were flying in a two block area of Vilonia the morning after the tornado. By the third day, they were flying at half-mast for those who lost lives.

• Some parishioners were trapped in Pentecostal New Life Church where services were going on.

The stories go on and on. A soldier hands over his sweaty shirt to be a donation in a veteran’s museum.

This short story is personal to me and I can elaborate a little. I was standing watching as the remains of the Museum of Veterans in Vilonia was razed. The flames were erasing what was left of three years of hard work and memories by many volunteers. A very nice looking soldier, with a name tag that said Timms, and also a group from the Valley View Church of Christ in Jonesboro, were helping with the cleanup. It was evident they had been working for quite a while. They were dirty and sweating. They listened while I shared the museum’s story with them.

I could tell they were moved. It was evident a few minutes later when they gathered to pray. They joined hands and the soldier joined in. The young man leading the prayer said that he had seen so much destruction but also hope in Vilonia. After the prayer, the soldier took off his top fatigue shirt and handed it to me.

His face reflected his sadness.

There’s only so much room in the paper, and these stories might be short but they are indeed worth sharing.

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