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Tornado aftermath brings out emotions in Arkansans

Posted: April 28, 2014 - 8:17pm

The sounds of medical helicopters and ambulance sirens filled the streets of Conway Sunday night following the tornado with wounded, distressed and shocked victims being rushed to Conway Regional Hospital for immediate care.

The tornado ripped through Pulaski, White, and Faulkner counties destroying schools, shops and memories.

During the storm, Jimi Riggs received a message from one of her young students taking shelter when the tornado hit Mayflower. While at Kroger in Conway, Riggs read, “Miss Jimi, I’m safe, but I’m scared.”

Riggs lives in Conway and commutes to the Mayflower area to teach her 5th grade class. After reading this message she began to hear reports on the devastation of the Mayflower area: buildings flattened, casualties in the streets and other horrifying reports.

Once she left the grocery store, she noticed a post on Facebook that explained that the Mayflower middle school, new to the district, had a safe room and it was open to the public. The shelter became a safe haven for many in the community, where teachers and students alike found refuge from the storm.

The next day, Riggs drove to her school where she was met with police and National Guard working the scene. The once familiar close-knit town of Mayflower where she had committed years of her life to the local youth had become a new landscape. Many buildings reduced to rubble and several cars thrown about like that of a child’s room after playtime.

Triage stations were set up at the local Valero on highway 365 in Mayflower. Cars and debris was dispersed throughout the landscape. Once shining homes and proud business centers are now unrecognizable and only a passing memory.

“It’s been a truly awful night for many families, neighborhoods and communities, but Arkansans always step up to help each other recover,” said Gov. Mike Beebe.

Throughout the community, the tornado has taken memories, but has stirred a spirit of compassion, strength and service. Locals have stood alongside organizations in raising funds, donating blankets and food, as well as volunteering their time to help families find peace in this trying time.

Arkansas Foodbank sent food trucks filled with food and water directly to Vilonia and Mayflower to assist families in need; the Red Cross set up shelters in Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, and local churches opened their doors to the many tornado victims produced after this storm.

Beyond the organizations that leaped to the afflicted areas to provide relief, individuals flooded social media with messages of love and support for those struck by the tornado. Shares and retweets riddled the walls of Arkansans and those beyond our borders stating, “Pray for Arkansas,” and other uplifting words.

“I love you, Arkansas. More importantly, I love the strong, resilient, generous, and caring people that make it a home. Thinking of all you and I’ll see you soon,” posted Ashli Brown, an Arkansas native now living in Chicago.

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