Haunted by trauma and debt, Springdale tornado victims try to rebuild lives

SPRINGDALE – Tarps cover broken windows and damaged roofs. Uprooted tree stumps lay in front of the houses. Piles of tree branches, twisted metal and wreckage are bigger than the kids playing here.

Debris litters the Woodridge Estates mobile home park as resident Kristy Miller and others continue to pick up wreckage nearly four months after a tornado ripped through the neighborhood.

The tornado formed around 4 a.m. on March 30 and traveled about 5.2 miles with winds up to 145 mph, according to a National Weather Service investigation. His path began in Fayetteville near the Northwest Arkansas Mall. From there it traveled northeast, knocking down trees, damaging 164 homes, snapping utility poles and lifting the gymnasium at George Elementary School.

Springdale Police Department Capt. Jeff Taylor said the tornado injured seven people, including a critic.

The Woodridge Estates mobile home park suffered some of the worst damage. The tornado tore through the park, uprooting trees in mobile homes, lifting trailers into the air and hurling debris across the park.

From nightmares to financial burdens, some victims still live with the impact of the storm every day.

HELL’S ROAR

Natalie Torquato, whose home behind George Elementary School was badly damaged, is still seeing the impact of the storm on her 4-year-old son. She took him to trauma therapy.

“Like every window is a fear, every sound from the sky is a fear,” Torquato said. “Every time the weather changes, he literally goes back in the tub and cries. And it breaks my heart. I had to give him therapy for that. And it’s going to take years to even remotely get back to where we were. .”

David Todd, a licensed trauma-focused therapist at Searcy, said natural disasters such as tornadoes can leave children feeling stressed and anxious, flashbacks and nightmares and – in the worst cases – post-stress disorder. traumatic.

Miller said many children in the mobile home park experience trauma.

“We now have children in the park who no longer want to sleep if there is a storm,” she said. “Or, they don’t want a tree next to their house anymore because it’s going to kill them.”

Todd said it was important for the kids to have a way to deal with the tornado. Talking is the best medicine, he says.

“Whether it’s art therapy, writing, or just a verbal discussion, it’s very important to verbalize what they’ve seen and try to process what they’ve seen and find comfortable places to communicate what they see,” Todd said.

Miller said the memories of that night were horrific. The tornado did not hit her trailer, but it was about 50 yards away, she said.

“People say they compare it to a freight train,” Miller said. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. It doesn’t look like a freight train. It looks like hell. It sounds like the roar of hell. That’s what it does to your insides.

Karen Barnes, a Springdale resident whose home on Chantilly Avenue was right in the storm’s path, ran from her bedroom to the bathroom just before five windows imploded.

“The trauma of having to run for my life,” Barnes said. “I’m better now, but for three weeks every day there were terrible storms and wind. I had nightmares. It’s affecting you in ways you didn’t expect.”

Barnes had experienced an EF3 tornado before in her lifetime, but the worst part of that storm was without warning, she said. Springdale does not have a tornado siren, but a digital warning system called Springdale Alert. However, the National Weather Service did not issue the warning until after the tornado touched down.

“When I found out that Springdale didn’t have a tornado warning system, it was a huge miss,” Barnes said. “Their excuse was that they needed to have someone there to trigger it, or the software updates were too expensive. How do you put a price on a life? There’s no excuse.”

Springdale Fire Chief Blake Holte said the city hasn’t had a tornado siren since the 1980s. There was one in the central fire station that firefighters could turn on if they knew it was coming. there was a tornado.

“It wasn’t particularly effective, and it certainly isn’t effective anymore,” Holte said. “We should have several sirens in the city for them to even be heard.”

Mayor Doug Sprouse said the city likely won’t add sirens because of the cost to cover the entire city.

“Our system worked as it should,” Sprouse said. “They just didn’t get the warning until the tornado had already hit.”

STATE AND FEDERAL AID

Some storm victims applied for loans through the federal Small Business Administration. The process can take weeks as officers review applicants’ financial history. If they did not qualify for loans – usually because their credit history suggests they might not be able to repay the loan – then they could apply for state assistance through from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Rick Tillery, spokesman for the Small Business Association, said 11 of the 33 applications were approved. The agency has approved a total of $372,000 for landlords and tenants, and $270,000 for three businesses. The loans help cover physical damage to homes and businesses, Tillery said.

Applicants must have a history of paying taxes and be a legal resident of the United States, he said.

“There’s no cap on how long it takes because it’s financial,” Tillery said. “Loan officers and case managers have to sift through all of a person’s financial data. So sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s not fast.”

LaTresha Woodruff, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said the state has awarded a total of $98,945 in assistance to homeowners and tenants affected by the tornado.

Many people, like Torquato, did not qualify for loans or state aid. Torquato said his family’s annual income was too high and their insurance covered too much to qualify.

Tillery said the Small Business Administration will step in to help people whose insurance doesn’t cover everything.

“We can’t duplicate the benefits,” he said. “So your insurance needs to be settled before we can start lending money.”

CLEAN, PAY BILLS

Torquato doesn’t think his family will ever get back to where they were financially. After hotel-hopping for months, they recently moved into a house in Lowell, but they have no furniture except for a children’s table for her toddlers.

Torquato said his family did not qualify for loans or state assistance. They’re fixing up the old house to hopefully sell it, but the walls are getting more and more moldy every day, and Torquato doesn’t know how much it will all cost. With two toddlers and a newborn, she lives hand to mouth, she said.

“The insurance company is supposed to reimburse me for hotel costs, driving costs and all that, but I’m in the hole,” she said.

Torquato said his family was financially comfortable before the storm hit.

“It was like the hardest thing for me personally was that I was financially stable,” Torquato said. “I had a routine with my kids. I was working, my husband was working. And we just had like, our own little worlds. And that kind of thing fell apart. All of a sudden, I was financially unstable. Then, I had no place to go, no place to live.

Many residents of the mobile home park are still cleaning up the destruction caused by the tornado. Miller helped find money and resources and made sure it went to those in need.

Debris from the storm is piled up around the mobile home park. Miller said she kept gardening tools in her car to remove the wreckage whenever she saw it.

“I probably removed 35 gallons of debris left behind,” Miller said. “The little stuff – shingles, pieces of wood, pieces of tile, glass, etc. It’s a recreation area where the kids play. We can’t have glass.”

Miller said 31 of the 121 mobile homes in the park were damaged. Two households cannot afford to return. A homeowner was not eligible for loans or state relief funds because she had no credit score.

As of July 1, five of the houses had not been repaired. They have electricity and water, but parts of the roof or walls are damaged. Miller said families are still living in the houses. These residents cannot find the money for the repairs or cannot find someone who will accept the work. Miller said she felt like the people in the park had been forgotten.

“The number of people and organizations that came in that first week just disappeared because I couldn’t give them direction,” Miller said. “I couldn’t give them a concrete avenue of where to take their resources. But where did those resources go? Are they still available? I don’t know.”

Miller is still looking for resources and donations to help the last five mobile homes that have not been repaired.

“If you were ready to help on March 30, how about July 1?” she says.

Mary Beth Kemp can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @marybethkemp8.