Left with Picking up the Pieces...
29 Jul 2008
According to Wikipedia Encyclopedia, there were 189 confirmed tornadoes in the United States in the month of April, 2008. Of these, not one led to a magical land with dancing scarecrows and cowardly lions. Instead, a trail of twisted metal and splintered homes could be found lying in their wake, and thousands of Americans were left asking once again, "why?"
April 3, 2008 marks the calendar in the minds of hundreds of central Arkansas residents, where at least 10 confirmed tornadoes struck on that single day alone, leaving an unknown number injured and extensive damage in the Little Rock area.
The storm tore through Hurricane Lake Mobile Home Park in Saline County--just southwest of Little Rock--where fires were reported to have destroyed at least two mobile homes, another seventy homes were damaged by storms, and according to local police, at least twelve were destroyed by the tornado itself. It is here where my photo journey begins.
Saline County residents spent more than a week picking up blown-off shingles, cleaning culverts, and piecing themselves together after that fateful night. Like a thief in the night, the storm made its way through the town—swift, menacing, and determined. Residents were awakened in the early hours of the morning to the sounds of trees uprooting and winds ripping through their homes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated at least 47 homes were destroyed in Saline County and hundreds more across the state. Childhood memories were stripped away in an instant. What took many families a lifetime to build, took mother nature mere minutes to destroy.
I photographed these pictures on the evening of June 4, 2008, while vacationing in the Little Rock area. More than two months after the storm had passed, the devastation could still be evidenced. This once thriving neighborhood had now been reduced to condemned ruble and decay.
One resident returning to pick through the remains of his now ravaged home, described how he was awakened from his sleep to the shrill sounds of metal tearing from his [mobile] home as the tornado whipped through the trailer park. Residents of neighboring towns were also gripped by terror as they waited for the tornado to map its pathway.
Home owner Betty Taylor, who has been a resident of nearby Alexander for more than 30 years, gives her account of that fateful day.
"I remember getting a call from my brother Richard telling me to turn on my TV. There was news footage of cars flying in the air and stuff blowing everywhere. Shortly afterward I heard our Tornado Warning Siren go off and I knew it was close. I ran to the stairwell and sat there just waiting until the siren stopped."
Mrs. Taylor, like so many others in her small community, listened as reports mapped the tornado's pathway. In what probably seemed like an eternity, a once bounding funnel turned suddenly and made its way back toward the downtown area, leaving residents of Alexander thankful to have been spared.
But what seemed like nothing short of a miracle for some, became a fear-gripped nightmare for others as the storm made its way through the long-time inhabited mobile home park in Benton.
The state Department of Emergency Management reported that the Arkansas National Guard's 77th Aviation Brigade from North Little Rock was activated to help guard the Hurricane Creek mobile homes, and the National Guard also provided several dozen cots and blankets for those who were left without homes.
As I walked across a large mound of dirt and debris in the tattered mobile home park, I was surprised to learn that a 3-bedroom home had once stood on its surface. Only then did I fully realize the full magnitude of the desolation. This place that I had once known as a child, was now nothing more than a bleak and lonely remnant of days past.
***Please note, this essay is dedicated to my family members who live in Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas. My prayers are with you***