MOUNTAINBURG — Residents in the Mountainburg area have taken it upon themselves to aid their community following the tornado that tore through the area last week.
The tornado made its way through the Mountainburg area on Friday and left a trail of damage that prompted a regional response to the area on Saturday. Though Crawford County did not qualify for assistance from state or federal emergency management agencies, the people who live in the city and surrounding areas have continued efforts to address the damage and food shortages the area has suffered following the storm.
The tornado, an EF-2 that hit the area around 4 p.m. Friday, damaged approximately 160 structures, left more than 2,000 without power and left four injured, Crawford County Emergency Management Director Brad Thomas said. This included six homes owned by uninsured people that were "completely destroyed" and five more owned by uninsured people that had what Thomas called "major damage."
Crawford County earned 39 of the 125 points necessary to qualify for relief assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Thomas said. The point system FEMA uses scores communities based on points earned from damage in the area.
The county also didn't qualify for state-level emergency management assistance due to the lack of damage and debris in publicly owned areas, Thomas said. The remaining debris in public areas would cost between $50,000-$60,000 to clean up, according to Arkansas Department of Emergency Management officials.
Due to the lack of outside funding, Crawford County officials are working out of their standard budgets to relieve the area. The city of Mountainburg, which has a population of about 700 and industry consisting largely of churches and gas stations, is also working out of its own budget.
“Our city has been hit hard," Mountainburg Police Chief Vincent Clamser said. "We don’t have money to help us, either.”
At the Crawford County Quorum Court meeting on Monday, Thomas called this estimated cost "a drop in the bucket" compared to the $227,969 threshold of public damage that would qualify for state-level relief assistance.
"There's a lot of debris removal in private properties, people's yards, that doesn't qualify," Thomas said.
Rick Kymes, who was cleaning up debris in front of his mother's house in the 1600 block of U.S. 71 in Mountainburg on Tuesday, said his mother's insurance didn't cover the damage to her property. He also said "there are a lot of people" in the Mountainburg area in a similar situation.
“They’re retired, they’re on Social Security. They can get by, but this really hurt them," Kymes said. "There's no possible way they can get back what they had."
Crawford County Judge Dennis Gilstrap said he is "trying to work on another avenue" to fund relief in the Mountainburg area. He said Gov. Asa Hutchinson and U.S. Sen. John Boozman have contacted him about possible relief assistance in the area.
But the Mountainburg community isn't waiting for government assistance.
"We’re overwhelmed with volunteers and donations," Mountainburg City Clerk Melany McKenzie said. "We’re taking one issue at a time."
McKenzie has led volunteer relief efforts out of the Mountainburg Municipal Office since Saturday. Such efforts include volunteers engaging in cleanup efforts in the area in tandem with firefighters from the Mountainburg Volunteer Fire Department.
Mountainburg Fire Chief Brian Beckham said firefighters are primarily focused on cleaning up "root balls" — masses of emerged roots that have surfaced from fallen trees — in the area. He said each "root ball" is about 3,000 pounds and difficult to burn.
Beckham said there are about 300 "root balls" in the area.
“It takes a lot of equipment and a lot of guys to pick one of those things up and dump trucks to haul them off," Beckham said.
While the Municipal Office is functioning as hub for volunteering, Pigeon Creek Freewill Baptist Church in the southern limits of the town has functioned as a collection point for donations. The church, which is currently filled with tables of canned goods, cleaning supplies and clothes, has taken weight off the shoulders of city officials, Beckham said.
Maenette LaRue, a volunteer at Pigeon Creek, called the donations the church has received "overwhelming."
"The first day that I came here, everything on the tables and under the tables was stacked full, the tables were stacked full, and there were people coming in regularly, all the time, to get a basketful of whatever they need," she said.
Since Saturday and Sunday, a person or group of people in need comes to the church about every 30 minutes, LaRue said.
“Most of the people are shy," LaRue said. "They ask, ‘Can I take two cans, please?’ I say, ‘You take all you want, all you need.'"
Beckam said he and others in the community have also set up an independent relief fund for the Mountainburg community. He said they are trying to collect enough money to distribute in the area.
"When the money gets built up to where we can distribute it, we’ve got a form to fill that out, and then once they fill that out, then we’re going to see who needs what," he said.
County officials spoke highly of the makeshift relief efforts in the area. Gilstrap said the area had a "great turnout" of help following the tornado on Friday.
“We’re hoping we can handle it," McKenzie said. "We have to.”