Tuesday, May 6, 2014


It's been a week since I first covered the aftermath left in the wake of an EF4 tornado, and my mind won't stop re-playing the images and the stories.

We arrived in the middle of the night.  It was chaos.  The storm hit at dusk, and by sun-up, it was evident that I was standing dead-center in the middle of a disaster zone.  Where we had set up, where our TV trucks and crews would eventually create our 48-hour makeshift base... was in the heart of devastation.  The place where the majority of people died, where the tornado was at it's most powerful when it was on the ground.

I was shaken when I first went on-air at 4:30 a.m. I knew it was horrific, and I knew I wouldn't be off-air for quite awhile, but that's not what I want to write about.  

I want to write about the people.  Our precious neighbors in western Pulaski county, Mayflower, Saltillo, Vilonia, El Paso, Center Hill - whose lives were ripped to shreds.

Colten was the first I met.  Don't even remember what I asked during my interview with him.  But he told me he lost everything and fought back tears when he said that a woman died on his land.  She had been in a truck that was blown off the Vilonia Bypass.  

Colten's friend Gray was an angel.  He lost everything in the 2011 tornado, so he never once left Colten's side.  Offered Colten and his family a place to stay, and when Colten was afraid looters may come, Gray stayed with Colten in a truck on property that night.

Then there was a pastor named Wade, who came to clean up and figure out how and where to rebuild the day after he lost it all.  He lost everything in 2011 and thought surely it wouldn't hit him again.  But it did.  He still shared that he was grateful to be alive, and grateful that he and his family were okay.

Then there were the dozens of volunteers who showed up to help.  Just because as they told me "they can."  Generous hearts and helping hands.  

There were dead animals.  Hundreds of people physically hurt.  Medical care given by anyone who could help.  There were toys and teddy bears strewn about.  Toiletries and personal items and photographs found miles away.  There was a rescued dog that had been blown into a tree. 

These are images I won't soon forget.   

It'll also be tough to forget hearing the Faulkner county sheriff break down when he told me that children were among the 16 dead.  Tough to forget seeing a mother fall to the ground mourning the deaths of those children.  Tough reading the words of a blogger who wrote about the tragedy.  

But what I don't ever want to forget is this:  the spirit of the people affected by this tragedy.  A spirit, which,  in the face of death, out of the rubble and with devastation all around is still shining brightly, with indelible grace and humility.  A people, accepting what has happened with enduring faith and hope.  These people are among the most loyal, solid, salt-of-the-earth human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. 

I returned home after two days of television coverage to my own children.  I drove up to my modest home, staring at the white petals from my dogwood tree that had fallen and lined a path up to my front door.  It felt like heaven. And then I felt so guilty. That I had a home to go to, children to hug.  A feeling of sadness came and really hasn't disappeared just yet.  Why those 16 people?  Why the thousands who took a hit and not us?  My life suddenly seemed so ordered and idyllic, with drawers and bins for all our stuff.  Others' things had just been blown to bits.

It doesn't make any sense.   But it doesn't have to make sense.  I only know this after covering devastation of such magnitude.  The resilience of the human spirit is alive and well in my home state.

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