VILONIA — Teenager Alli Bonnema of Vilonia, writes on Facebook “Our little town has built itself back up and at it in the last three years and three days. Things will never be the same for this town. Things are replaceable, houses are rebuildable, damage is cleanable. But, people are irreplaceable. Praying for all of those who can’t find loves ones or who lost everything.”
That appears to be the sentiment of many residents in Vilonia—a city of about 3,500 residents that was hit by a tornado causing major devastation and loss of life Sunday night. Power is off to the majority of Vilonia. Cell services are hit and miss. Both Sunday night and Monday morning, residents were using Facebook as a means of sharing personal experiences and as a way of tracking their friends and loved ones as well.
The Facebook newsfeed, from Vilonia residents, is full of loss and sorrow but also projects a spirit of hope. Vilonia Schools were closed for the day but the staff and teachers were at all trying to account for their students. One official at one Vilonia school said they anticipate there will be casualties related to their school “but we can’t say anything right now.”
The Vilonia Primary PTO was gathered
Vilonia High School Teacher Maynette Hardin Stroud wrote on her Facebook Sunday night, “Prayers for all affected by the tornado. I was camped in our safe room with neighbors. There’s nothing like walking out of the concrete clad safe room to see so many texts and missed calls asking if we are ok.”
A Monday morning post reads: “Heartbroken for so many…my students recalled their experiences from the 2011 tornado in class on Friday.” In response, teacher Erin Rappold writes “We also discussed this very thing Friday. Even the odds of it hitting the same spots.”
Messages posted to the school website include one from the Branson, Missouri School District and offers of assistance. I truly understand the feelings that are happening, Jimmy Brown writes.
Churches including the Point of Grace, Beryl Baptist Church and Sunny Gap Church are all taking donations of items. Facebook is also being used as a source to post needs and offers for help. One resident posted that Erin Hathorn, account manager at Hoyt's Ag Parts & Supply, has offered up generators and power saws. “I know that we cannot get to Vilonia or Mayflower, but if you could get the word out that anyone can use these free of charge, we have many generators and chainsaws, we can help, our phone number 501-477-2300.”
Meaders Self Storage in Vilonia is damaged but usable. If anyone needs a place to store your stuff call. 501-514-3390. There are several offers of volunteers and chainsaws. The American Red Cross is set up at Beryl Baptist Church with a badge station for volunteers. It is believed they will start registering people around noon.
The American Red Cross has also set up six emergency shelter locations with cots, blankets, food and such including: St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Conway, Beryl Baptist Church in Vilonia, Antioch Baptist Church in Conway, Oak Bowery Baptist in Conway, Point of Grace in Conway and Mayflower Middle School.