Officials Point To Progress Of Tornado Recovery, Need For Federal Aid

Jul 11, 2014

One neighborhood to the south of Mayflower is nearing the end of a clean-up phase after being struck by April’s tornados. Governor Mike Beebe and local leaders were on hand Thursday to tour the area. KUAR’s Jacob Kauffman reports on the recovery effort and its politics.

On a sunny morning, with temperatures hovering near the low 90s, workers set about their task of the last two months – clearing debris from what was until recently a burgeoning upscale neighborhood. A crew of men use chainsaws and four wheelers to cut-up limbs and carry off the remnants of trees strewn about cluttered lots.

Serving as County Judge Allen Dodson has overseen much of the recovery in Faulkner County and in the Plantation River subdivision – which is in its last stage of debris removal. Dodson said he’s been impressed by the speed of the clean-up.

“As a dump truck's loaded here, adjacent to us right now…watching it being loaded, multiply that by 1,200 times and that really gives you an idea of the scale and that’s just this one subdivision,” said Dodson.

Donnie Belew’s home in the unincorporated development to the south of Mayflower is within a short walk of the Arkansas River, with Pinnacle Mountain occupying the horizon. He saw the tornado crossing the river, collecting water, and bearing down on his home.

“I walked back inside and I dead bolted the lock. What good is that going to do? But I did. I told my wife there’s absolutely no way it’s going to miss us. I thought right then, this is it,” said Belew.

The tornado hit while he and his family were inside, causing much of the house to collapse, surrounding a hunkered down Belew family.

“We had bricks come at us at 200 miles an hour and all that debris that was on top of us shielded us and protect us. The whole thing lasted maybe 20 seconds,” said Belew.

As the neighborhood’s last debris is collected and trucked off, and as Belew rebuilds, the political fight over the storm is reaching new heights. Senator Mark Pryor and his Republican challenger Representative Tom Cotton have been trading remarks and television ads over what support for effected communities means.

Pryor’s campaign routinely attacks Cotton for several votes against FEMA and disaster aid packages while Cotton’s camp accuses Prior of exploiting residents and their poor fortunes.

A number of the workers and local leaders said they wish both campaigns would stop politicizing the event. Governor Mike Beebe, along with Judge Dodson and Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland, pointed to the importance of the issue at the center of the Senate campaign - federal disaster aid.

“It’s impossible to be able to respond to major disasters without state and federal aid. For example these pieces of county equipment and the overtime necessary to run it would break this county,” said Beebe.

Beebe provided only a brief thought on a recent Cotton ad with Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock denouncing Pryor’s involvement with storm damaged communities.

“I thought that was unusual,” said Beebe.