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This week, I declared Washington County a disaster area in the wake of an EF3 tornado that damaged more than 350 homes and businesses and demolished the gym at George Elementary in Springdale.
The process that led to the declaration officially began at 5:34 a.m. on March 30th when the director of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management notified me a tornado had touched down about 4 a.m.
In the weeks since then, leaders of local and state emergency agencies have joined investigators from FEMA to inspect homes and structures in order to estimate the dollar amount of damage.
The tornado stayed on the ground for eight minutes and cut a strip through Washington County that was as wide as the length of nearly four football fields.
Fewer than ten people were injured, and we were blessed that no one died in this storm.
Within hours of the storm, volunteers from Springdale and nearby communities, members of church-based disaster-relief teams, and representatives from nonprofit agencies appeared to help the county dig out.
In my seven years in office, I have declared too many areas a disaster after they have been flattened by a tornado or washed away by a flood. I have flown over houses without a roof or have been flattened altogether. I have seen automobiles lying upside down far from the place where the wind picked them up. I have seen fields of soybean, corn, and cotton overtaken by the rushing water of historic floods, which also sometimes tear out chunks of the levees that protect towns and farms along our rivers.
My role in these events usually starts the same way, with a telephone call from my Director of Emergency Management. Sometimes it’s a call from the Corps of Engineers in another state, which notified me on a beautiful spring morning in 2019 that water from Oklahoma soon would engorge the Arkansas River and threaten our state all the way to Little Rock.
While management of the response to a natural disaster is one of the most difficult tasks that falls to a governor, it’s also one of the most rewarding because I witness the best in people that emerges in the worst of times.
I see firsthand the kindness and personal sacrifice of Arkansans who ignore risks to their personal safety to help their neighbors. First responders run to the danger to ensure everyone is out safely. Employees of power companies climb ice-encrusted poles in sub-freezing weather to restore electricity. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals report for duty to back up staff already on the job.
We hold our breath when we hear that severe weather is likely, and when the black, low-hanging clouds blow in as they did again this week, we wonder where the storm will go and how it will end.
We can only guess at what’s about to happen, but we always can be certain of one thing after every calamity. We know that after every single storm, Arkansans will emerge by the hundreds to rescue and comfort the victims and to start rebuilding without regard for their personal inconvenience.
So today, I am expressing thanks to the hundreds of volunteers and the disaster-relief organizations that respond in a crisis. These include the Red Cross and multiple faith-based organizations and churches.
I am also announcing today the allocation of $100,000 in individual assistance that will be available to cover part of the loss to homeowners.
The Small Business Administration will make available low-interest loans to impacted businesses.
One of the many things on my list of bragging rights is the compassion and courage of Arkansans.