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Firefighters pitch in around central Arkansas

An America flag is draped upon fallen a tree in a pile of debris left by a tornado that struck Vilonia Sunday night. (Photo by Engineer Paul Grove)
An America flag is draped upon fallen a tree in a pile of debris left by a tornado that struck Vilonia Sunday night. (Photo by Engineer Paul Grove)
Engineer Tyler Castleberry (left) and Captain Scott Eaton perform searches Monday amid debris from the tornado that struck Vilonia Sunday night. Castleberry & Eaton were part of a five-person team of career Maumelle firefighters sent to Faulkner County Monday to aid in search and rescue operations. (Photo by Firefighter Todd Breeding)
Engineer Tyler Castleberry (left) and Captain Scott Eaton perform searches Monday amid debris from the tornado that struck Vilonia Sunday night. Castleberry & Eaton were part of a five-person team of career Maumelle firefighters sent to Faulkner County Monday to aid in search and rescue operations. (Photo by Firefighter Todd Breeding)
Firefighter Destin Weaver surveys damage in the Vilonia area. Weaver was one of five career Maumelle firefighters deployed to Faulkner County Monday as part of Central Arkansas Task Force 1, an urban search and rescue (USAR) team. (Photo by Captain Scott Eaton).
Firefighter Destin Weaver surveys damage in the Vilonia area. Weaver was one of five career Maumelle firefighters deployed to Faulkner County Monday as part of Central Arkansas Task Force 1, an urban search and rescue (USAR) team. (Photo by Captain Scott Eaton).
Firefighter Todd Breeding (foreground) was one of five career Maumelle firefighters deployed to Faulkner County Monday as part of Central Arkansas Task Force 1, an urban search and rescue (USAR) team. (Photo by Captain Scott Eaton)
Firefighter Todd Breeding (foreground) was one of five career Maumelle firefighters deployed to Faulkner County Monday as part of Central Arkansas Task Force 1, an urban search and rescue (USAR) team. (Photo by Captain Scott Eaton)

Once again Maumelle dodged the bullet or in this case the oncoming path of a dangerous killer tornado Sunday cutting a half-mile swatch along the way.

Wall to wall local TV coverage had meteorologists tracking the storm even before the cold front approached Arkansas. But after the first sighting of a hook echo on radar, the weather software displayed a storm path realizing it could vary. But all along the storm’s path toward central Arkansas it displayed a projection that showed Maumelle directly in its path.

Why it went towards Mayflower and not Maumelle will never be known, Chief John Payne said.

“Whatever it is, old timers hear say or an old wives’ tale, many Maumelle residents believe its the combination of the local terrain, Pinnacle Mountain and the Arkansas River that direct storms away from Maumelle,” Payne said.

Since the city’s founding, the very minor short-lived tornado that struck just the northern tip of the city last spring is the only tornado on record to ever touch down within the city.

When asked, Payne wouldn’t speculate on the damage this storm could have done had it hit Maumelle broadside. However he agreed it could have been costly in both human and structural elements.

But he added two things, “No city can prepare enough to handle a tornado that size” and that the city plans need to be updated constantly.

Payne said it was Maumelle officials, primarily he and police chief Sam Williams that set up command and control locations in Mayflower.

Often times local officials may be injured or trapped inside a vehicle or building or caught up in the emotion of seeing their life as they know it destroyed.

Some say that was the case with Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock who had several family members homes totally destroyed by the tornado in Vilonia.

Volunteer firefighters from as far away as Eureka Springs showed up to help, Payne said while 15 departments actually sent firefighters to help.

Maumelle was asked through its mutual aid agreement with Oak Grove to help out in Mayflower, Payne said.

— Bill Lawson

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