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Ten Years Later: Remembering the horrific tornado that struck Mayflower and Vilonia on April 27



Little Rock, Arkansas – A catastrophic EF-4 tornado devastated central Arkansas ten years ago. In its wake, the storm destroyed scores of houses and businesses and claimed the lives of sixteen Arkansans. That dreadful day irrevocably impacted people’s lives.

We are turning back time, remembering that incident, and visiting the individuals impacted in Pulaski, Faulkner, and White counties today. We’re narrating the tale of that evening and the ensuing ten years of reconstruction.

Just after 7:00 p.m., a storm system created a supercell northwest of Little Rock that started to intensify quickly. This information comes from the National Weather Service.

The system created a catastrophic tornado that spread throughout central Arkansas, passing through Vilonia and Mayflower before finally fading in White County, close to El Paso.
The tornado produced speeds of up to 200 miles per hour and spanned 41 miles in total.
People noticed something strange about this tornado already on the first touchdown.

“Look at the scope of this tornado that’s on the ground. It was large at that time,” said Meteorologist Barry Brandt. “The debris ball was unmistakable.”

Numerous homes were destroyed by the tornado, including Kristin and Martin Patton’s in Mayflower.

“I remember, I guess, the hail. It sounded like someone was just dumping gravel on the house. And then, the only other sound I really remember was just like boards being pried apart,” Kristin said. “I don’t know for me it was kind of a sensation of a vacuum just sucking us up. My house collapsed on top of me. I mean by the grace of God, I just was able to crawl out from under there and I survived, and I just got really lucky.”

“Within seconds, when it hit, I just remember being airborne. My mouth, my eyes full of mud. I remember flying in circles, kind of spinning, and then landing. And then it was over. And we immediately started yelling for each other to try and get accountability. I found Keaton, our son. I remember she [Kristin] couldn’t find Elizabeth, but turns out she was laying on top of her,” Martin said. “And then I think we kinda shouted for joy that we were alive! We had survived.”

James Bryant, a meteorologist, was present that evening and was actively pursuing the tornado.

“The smell is one thing I’ll never forget. It smelled like fresh cut grass, fresh cut vegetation. There’s trees everywhere, and vegetation’s been stripped up everywhere along the path of the tornado,” he said. “A lot of the cars parked nearby were unrecognizable, thrown long distances. It was some of the worst tornado damage I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been chasing for over ten years.”

Even though the storm caused enormous destruction, the people’s morale was not broken, and reconstruction work started nearly right after.

“You could just see that all of Vilonia was pretty much gone,” said former Meteorologist Ned Perme. “But today, the community has already started to rebuild from the ground up. They will rebuild and we’ll overcome this and be better after it’s all said and done.

For preparedness, mitigation, and recovery from disasters, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and community partners received $43 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Of that total, $2.3 million was set aside to cover the costs of housing replacement, house repair, and rental expenditures for families affected by the tornadoes. $3 million went into replacing the bridges, and an additional $2.2 million went toward building tornado safe rooms in schools.”

Smaller, random acts of goodwill that neighbors performed for one another as they started to rebuild their town had a greater impact than the government cleanup efforts. Ben Wagonner, a local business entrepreneur, utilized his construction company to reconstruct completely destroyed homes using funds from his personal savings.

The event’s legacy has been defined by the strong communal ties that were formed during the reconstruction effort.

“It was just astounding to see the outpouring of love everybody had,” Kristin said.

“There’s so many acts of kindness and so many people came out and helped,” Martin said. “I feel like every day is a gift.”

“Time heals wounds,” said Brandt. “The trees begin to grow back. There’s still that tornado scar there that will be there for decades, but it lessens and lessens. The emotional impact lessens some but it never goes away.”

“The amount of donations that poured in, and the amount of people that showed up to clear roads to clear houses and just do what they could. And a lot of those homes they did rebuild,” said Bryant. “Nothing can break the spirit of those people here in Arkansas.”


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