Tornadoes and Safe Rooms, An Arkansas Family Shares Their Story

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Release date: 
May 13, 1999
Release Number: 
HQ-99-176

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In March of 1997 tornadoes ripped through 260-mile long stretch of Arkansas, and severely damaged the town of Arkadelphia's business district. Wayne and Mae Buck lived through this disaster and resolved to do something to help Arkadelphia become a more disaster-resistant community. Mae Buck recently wrote the story of their experiences and have given FEMA permission to make it available to the public. Click on thumbnail for larger view of picture with caption

On a typical Saturday morning on March 1, 1997, I decided after lunch to visit my parents who live one house down from me in order to check on my father who had recently had surgery. As I walked to their home, the air was hot and humid and looked like it might storm.

After getting my father to lie down to rest, we heard the sirens sound downtown. We turned on the television, and they announced the approaching tornado. Shelley and Josh, my daughter and future son-in-law, were at my house so I called and told them to come up to my parents so we could all be together.

When they did not come after several minutes, I went outside, and saw them come out of my house. As I left my parents home to meet them, we all stood outside and listened to the sirens and watched the sky. When we heard the tornado, which sounded exactly like the train we hear daily in our neighborhood, we could not decide if it was a real train or a tornado. Once we realized that the sound was an approaching tornado, we only had time to return to my house and run down stairs before the tornado struck. My house shuck, but did not incur significant damage. I opened the downstairs door only to find my whole world gone. I cannot describe the feelings I had when I saw my parent's home, my day care center, and my neighborhood in rubble.

My first concern was my parents. We rushed up the street trying to locate their home. Determining the location of homes proved to be a challenge. After a lot of screaming and crying, my parents answered our calls, and we began to extract them from their destroyed home. My mother was injured, but my father was fine.

Wayne, my husband, was working and after watching the storm pass, he started home. He walked through debris and climbed over fallen trees for one mile before he could reach us. After locating us, Wayne, my father, Shelley, and Josh started doing what they could around the neighborhood. Mother and I went to the hospital and spent the night because of her injuries.

After the initial shock of the tornado wore off, we had to decided how and what to do to begin the rebuilding of our homes, business, and lives. Teachers and parents at the day care wanted to keep the children together, so they worked on finding a place for school to be held. First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia had just completed their new educational building, and they allowed Fun Time Learning Center to use a suite of four rooms for the day care. We were located at First Baptist Church for a total of ten months.

During those ten months, with the help of Emmanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock, Church in a Day, and various volunteers, we were able to reopen the school on its original site on January 12, 1998.

As we considered building our new day care facility, we realized we would not have a quality physical structure for the children unless we had a safe room incorporated into our plans. Therefore, included in our new day care center, parents, children, and visitors will find a beautiful, large safe room designed with reinforced concrete and steel that hosts our children's sleep time daily.

Now, I have the peace of mind that the children I care for and the staff that I employee are safe. I feel confident that we have done everything possible to protect ourselves and others in the event of another tornado.

To assist others toward preparing for the possibility...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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