Severe weather that stretched across Arkansas through Tuesday and Wednesday did little to stem clean-up and recovery efforts in the state, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
“Despite the fact that we’ve had weather issues, we haven’t seen the energy or efforts of the people that are out there removing debris and offering assistance diminish in any way,” Sanders said.
Arkansas mostly dodged another round of tornadoes on Wednesday.
But David Writer isn’t so sure.
He said an apparent tornado damaged a tobacconist’s shop on Berryville’s Main Street before lifting off the ground and striking a school building again.
“It jumped over several buildings and hit this school building that was right in the middle of four or five other buildings,” said Writer, the Carroll County District Judge. “It hit that and then jumped up and continued northeast.”
The author said it twisted the metal roof of a building that the Berryville School Distinct uses for storage.
“It kind of turned it counter-clockwise,” he said of the roof. “It kind of got on the high-voltage lines.”
The author said the damage occurred around 6 a.m. before school had started.
“It could have been a lot worse if it had been a little later,” he said. “It’s right next to the cafeteria. Kids would have been anywhere.”
Tobacco Outlet district manager Christina Sands said she wasn’t sure if it was a tornado or straight-line wind.
“It took half our roof off,” she said. “Our roof was just a commercial thing, so it rolled up like a pop can. We already had the roofer and they pulled it back [into place]. We need a new roof.”
Karen Hatfield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tulsa, said Wednesday they weren’t sure if it was a tornado that hit Berryville. She said a storm warned of tornadoes swept through Madison County before causing damage in Berryville.
Scotty Williams, emergency management director for Poinsett County in northeastern Arkansas, said high winds blew down some trees and a tree fell into a woman’s home in Lepanto and grazed her wrist.
“She was pretty upset and that’s understandable,” he said.
When asked when the storm came through, Williams said he wasn’t sure.
“I can’t tell you that,” he said. “I tried to hold on to the steering wheel. I don’t have an anemometer on my vehicle so I can’t tell you how hard it blew, but it was probably the strongest I’ve ever seen. “
Storms swept through Arkansas on Wednesday, just five days after EF-3 tornadoes struck central Arkansas and Wynne, causing extensive damage.
Wednesday’s round of storms triggered a twister in southeastern Missouri that killed five people.
There’s a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms in central Arkansas today, but it should be clear for a few days after that, said Thomas Jones, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.
The governor on Wednesday expressed optimism about the crews’ ability to continue the cleanup despite Wednesday’s weather.
“Certainly the rain isn’t helping, the strong winds we’ve seen in different parts of the state aren’t ideal,” she said. “But the teams that have been deployed since Friday continue to work despite working under difficult weather conditions.”
Around 4,500 Entergy customers were left without electricity around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, according to a power failure map. The number marks a drop of about 1,500 customers that the utility reported the previous evening.
The greatest number of affected customers was reported in Pulaski County, about 2,700, followed by Ouachita County, 460. Cross County, which was devastated by one of last week’s tornadoes, reported about 350 outages.
According to the utility, Electric Cooperatives had about 43 customers without power around 4:30 p.m. Lafayette County reported the highest number of customers without power, about 15.
Officials with emergency services in Benton and Washington counties said they had received no reports of storm damage as of Wednesday morning.
Benton County Public Safety Administrator Robert McGowen said the county had “no damage reports of any kind.” Washington County had also reported no damage as of Wednesday afternoon.
“We dodged another bullet,” McGowen said.
FUNDING REQUEST UPDATE
The governor spoke with U.S. Senator John Boozman, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other local officials during a press conference Wednesday morning in the town center at the Immanuel Baptist Church, 315 N. Shackleford Road.
The state had heard no response Wednesday afternoon to Sanders’ request that the federal government pay for all state and local recovery costs for the first 30 days after Friday’s storms.
However, Sanders added: “We’re feeling pretty good about it so far.”
The request for 100 percent federal cost-sharing for state and local resources was announced by the governor in a news release Tuesday afternoon. According to the press release, it applies to “clean-up and emergency measures in Pulaski, Lonoke and Cross counties”.
Sanders said the federal government currently covers 75% of all costs, but added that “the arrangement must go further to help Arkansas residents in need.”
Boozman, representing the congressional delegation at Wednesday’s conference, said she wants to make sure the federal response “is what it should be.” He did, however, commend FEMA Administrator Tony Robinson’s efforts to support Arkansas.
“It’s going to take a while,” Boozman said. “It will just take time for us all to keep working together.”
During the conference, Robinson, FEMA Administrator, urged residents affected by Friday’s storms to call their insurance provider, if they have one, and then call (800) 621-3362 or visit disasterassistance.gov for help apply for.
Downtown is the location of one of three disaster recovery centers in the state. Another is at North Little Rock, 1300 Pike Ave., while the third is at Wynne, 702 US 64.
The centers allow people to meet with FEMA representatives for help in areas such as insurance, identification, and small business management loans.
Robinson said people calling should have their driver’s license and insurance policy ready.
Each of the state’s three disaster recovery centers has representatives from state agencies who help people obtain those documents if they’re lost in the storms, Sanders said.
Robinson also highlighted FEMA’s partnership with the Small Business Administration. He said some applying for help through FEMA might be encouraged to apply to the Small Business Administration as well.
“Please do that,” he urged.
Roofers BEWARE HOMEOWNERS
Less than a week after the destructive storms swept through the state, “storm chasers” are a potential risk to local citizens.
No, not the kind that helps warn people about severe weather.
“Storm Chasers” is a nickname for foreign contractors, including roofers, who raid an area after major storms to take advantage of the situation.
“We’re seeing a big influx from Texas and Louisiana,” said Ted Upshaw, co-founder of Accountable Roofing & Remodeling in Little Rock. “Some of them are legit. But some of them just rip people off.”
Upshaw cautioned those affected by the storms to call the contractor’s permitting agency to confirm an individual’s legitimacy.
“What we want to say to people is, be smart about doing this,” Upshaw said. “Make sure they have a license, make sure they have insurance. Just take five minutes and protect yourself, and if they ask for money upfront, walk away.”
Regal Roofing general manager Mark Tarnowsky also warned of the danger of storm chasers and the efforts they will make.
“A lot of them will come in and get a burner phone,” Tarnowsky said. “That way they have a local area code. The homeowner doesn’t really realize they’re not from this area.”
Five days before the storms, Upshaw said there was about a five-day wait for jobs placed at Accountable Roofing & Remodeling, although Wednesday’s storm front delayed all work by a day.
Tarnowsky said Regal Roofing tries to get crews on site within a day of an order being placed.
“Our biggest problem right now, a lot of them have trees everywhere,” Tarnowsky said. “So we have to wait for the trees to get where we can get [the houses] in the dry.”
“There’s still a lot of heavy construction and cleanup going on,” Upshaw said. “Probably in the next week or so we’ll start going crazy as people start preparing for roofs. … We see that people are looking for business now, but the underwriters are just getting here. From the roof side it will be another two weeks before we roll properly and then the challenge would be to source material.”
With the industry still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, Upshaw believes supply chain issues will impact the recovery process.
“We still have supply chain holes and when you get a big event like this, it’s not big enough to bleed us out nationally, but we’re going to pull all the stuff locally,” Upshaw said. “So you’re going to start offering less choice and less color to your customers. We got into a time during Covid where the only colors we could get were black and weathered wood.”
Tarnowsky, who has been in the roofing business for about 24 years, said this is his fourth time dealing with the aftermath of severe weather. He was previously involved in two tornadoes and a major hailstorm in Texarkana.
“One thing about this one is the damage, it’s a longer range,” Tarnowsky said. “It’s just not in one area. It’s in Little Rock, it’s in North Little Rock, it’s in Jacksonville, it’s in Wynne. The damage distance is much greater than what I saw.”
The twister that struck the Little Rock area traveled 31.9 miles in length and had a maximum width of 600 yards, according to the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.
“I believe this work from the tornadoes will keep the contractors busy year-round,” Tarnowsky said.
Information for this article was contributed by Cynthia Howell, Daniel McFadin, and Remington Miller of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Tracy Neal and Tom Sissom of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders shakes hands with members of the Army National Guard while touring downtown West Little Rock after receiving an update on tornado damage response and recovery on Wednesday. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette/Stephen Swofford)