Update: 12:46 a.m.: Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokesman Tommy Jackson says two people died Monday in Vilonia, where a tornado likely ripped through the area. Vilonia Fire Chief Keith Hillman says between 50 and 60 people remained unaccounted late Monday night, but he expected many simply weren't reachable. He said he didn't expect the toll to rise significantly. Hillman says fire crews wrapped up work overnight and planned to resume Tuesday morning.
A severe storm “wiped out” an area of downtown Vilonia about 7:30 p.m. Monday, city officials said. Stephan Hawks, a Faulkner County spokesman, says one person died in the town, where a path of damage stretches three miles wide and 15 miles long, The Associated Press reported late Monday.
“It’s just a mess here,” Mayor James Firestone said. “There are trees and power lines down everywhere. Highway 64 is closed. An 18-wheeler is turned over. Only emergency vehicles are being let in. And we need them.”
Houses and businesses are gone, cars are turned over and the city is in the dark, he added.
“Keith’s Valero is gone from what I have heard,” Firestone said.
Also, he said, he had heard reports that some people in Rocky Point were trapped in a storm cellar. Another family was trapped in a mobile home. In Black Oak, he said, there were reports that one family was trapped in a mobile home. He said, “as far as he knew” there have been no fatalities. However, he said, he has heard an 18-year-old girl has been injured. Police and fire department officials were out surveying the damage in the darkness.
“As bad as it is, we are lucky,” he said. “We are very lucky. It could have been a lot worse with a lot of lives lost.”
Resident Billy Mitchell, who lives in the downtown area, described the town as “wiped out.” His family was in a storm shelter when it hit.
“I have been in that storm cellar man times since 1964,” he said. “I have never heard anything like I heard tonight. There was wind and hail. It was scary now. “
Mitchell, who is an official with the Senior Citizens Center, said it has been opened as a shelter. Yet, because of the downed power lines, he was not able to make it to open it.
“There is a generator there though and there’s power so everyone can go there,” he added.
Other residents reported that Harp’s Grocery Store and the Nazarene Church have also been destroyed.
One housing area that received major damage was Quail Hollow. A resident of the area, Sharon Messer, said her house has received roof damage, trees were downed and storage buildings have been blown away.
“It didn’t sound like a big freight train — that is what I’ve always heard a tornado sounds like,” she said. “All I could hear was glass breaking.”
Windows were blown out of her house, and between the panes, she said, the frames are twisted. Outside, she described an area with many other houses with major damage. Yet, she said, her house wasn’t damaged as bad as others in the area.
“It is just a mess,” she said.
Conway received heavy rain during the storm, and some damage was reported, including a tree that fell on a house in the 2100 block of Broadview Avenue. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Elsewhere in the state, a woman was swept to her death Monday afternoon when floodwaters swept her minivan off a roadway in southern Washington County.
Kelly Cantrell of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said the victim tried to cross water flowing across Arkansas 265 when she was swept into the Illinois River. The woman’s 11-year-old son survived.
The dead woman was identified as 38-year-old Consuelo Santillano of West Fork.
Gov. Mike Beebe declared a state of emergency for Arkansas in the wake of the storms. A spokesman for Beebe said Monday the state of emergency will be retroactive until April 19 when the last batch of storms whipped across Arkansas. Forecasters reported damage at Morgan and Maumelle along Interstate 40.
Utility officials say more than 72,000 homes and businesses are without electricity across Arkansas.
Damage was reported to be widespread in Garland County in the western part of the state.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample says the state won’t likely know the extent of damage caused by Monday’s flooding and tornadoes until Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Storm Prediction Center had predicted significant severe weather over much of Arkansas for Monday, and storms quickly grew violent in the heat of the day. Forecasters say Tuesday could bring another bout of bad weather.
Information from The Associated Press and from Log Cabin staff members was used in this report.