MOUNTAINBURG — Though its appearance has changed drastically from two months ago, the city of Mountainburg and northeast Crawford County are still recovering from the tornado that rocked the area April 13.
Mountainburg police chief Vincent Clamser and Crawford County emergency management director Brad Thomas said city and county personnel are still focused on removing debris and cleaning up areas affected by the tornado. The tornado, an EF-2 that swept through the Mountainburg area on the late afternoon of April 13, damaged approximately 160 structures, left more than 2,000 without power and left four injured, Thomas said.
"It’s been coming along all right," Thomas said of the cleanup.
The cleanup in Crawford County and Mountainburg are both being funded by state grants, which were given by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on April 25 in an effort to aid multiple areas in Arkansas damaged by severe weather. Neither area qualified for federal or state emergency management assistance following the tornado.
On Monday, Clamser said Mountainburg officials had been working on cleaning up the city's nearly 300 "root balls" — masses of emerged roots that have surfaced from fallen trees — for about two weeks. He and Thomas said this is because it took time for the city and county to get bids and select a contractor to orchestrate the clean-up.
Other than the "root balls," Clamser said, the city has made progress.
“We’ve been able to burn the tree limbs and things we had saved during the cleanup process," he said. "Some of the stuff, we had to put in dumpsters and send off to dump sites, but it’s coming along.”
Cleaning up debris in the county was initially inhibited by a lack of permits needed to burn debris, Thomas said.
“People don’t think about having to acquire burn permits or having to go through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in order to get burn permits," he said. "You have to do that in order to get rid of debris.”
A handful of trailers in the county are still suffering from the damage caused by the tornado two months ago, Thomas said. Damage to Conley Cemetery, located just southeast of Mountainburg, was observed June 8.
"We’re really just getting the wheels in motion on this project," Thomas said. "I think we’ve pretty well overcome most of our obstacles just getting started.”
Some of the areas hit hardest by the tornado were the 1600 block of U.S. 71 and 2000 block of Lake Fort Smith Road, both in Mountainburg. The tornado had extensively damaged homes, trees, fences and power lines in these two areas.
Houses in these areas are now either replaced by new ones or have new siding in place of where damage was. Farnese Kymes, whose service garage was destroyed and house was affected by the tornado, purchased a modular after the storm, Clamser said.
"The good will is still there. There is progress being made, which is helpful," Clamser said. "(It's good) when you see a house that was destroyed and a new one going up in its place, when you see the repairs that are taking place on homes that had lost roofs, and there is a buzz in the air because there’s construction going on and people’s spirits are lifted up about it.”
The city of Mountainburg also organized a food and clothing bank at Pigeon Creek Freewill Baptist Church following the tornado. Clamser said the donation bank was so successful that Pigeon Creek gave the remainder of its donations to an organization in Alma about two weeks after the storm.
Clamser also said volunteers haven't stopped coming to his town.
"There are still people who show up on weekends to help out families, which is real nice to see that there are folks who are still willing to come out and help who didn’t have any other way to cut up tree limbs and clean up their yards," he said.
Despite these positive strides, Clamser still said the city is not where it needs to be. He said the help he and other city officials offer going forward is going to vary on an individual basis.
“We’ll never get it back to the same way it was, but to get it back to normal again, it varies for certain families, what they’re going to do with their repairs as to what they’re going to do with their insurance," he said.
"We definitely feel like progress has been made," Thomas said. "It’s going well so far, but it takes a little bit of time to get things cleaned up.”