Tornado smashes Arkansas homes
By Phil Gast and Joe Sutton, CNN
(CNN) — A storm system unleashed a tornado that slammed communities in northern Arkansas, damaging homes and destroying a church, officials said Wednesday evening.
At least three injuries were reported in Van Buren County.
Some 33 homes and a business were damaged in the county, said Tommy Jackson of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.
The tornado demolished the sanctuary, fellowship area, classrooms and a pavilion at Botkinburg Foursquare Church, its pastor told CNN.
“If the tornado would have come an hour and a half later we would have been caught in it,” said Senior Pastor Ester Bass, referring to Wednesday night services.
No members of the church were injured.
A passing motorist who parked his truck in the church drive-through to get out of the dangerous weather had a close call, however, when the storm struck.
“It shook the truck and just lifted the roof right off the drive-through,” said Bass. “He was all right.”
Bass, 63, said his congregation of about 100 was left stunned.
“It is just devastating. My wife and I are just torn,” Bass said. “We put a lot of sweat and hard work and it was paying off. The church was growing.”
As church leaders prepared to meet with their insurance adjuster, the pastor was thankful for a loyal membership.
“They will be with me,” said Bass. “They are ready to buckle down and do what we have to. With the Lord’s help, we are going to rebuild.”
According to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, a Van Buren County highway was blocked by fallen trees and an 18-wheeler truck was overturned.
John Robinson, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Little Rock office, said the tornado tracked from the community of Scotland to Botkinburg. “It weakened fairly soon after that,” he said. Another storm formed after that.
Damage also was reported in Viola in Fulton County, near the Missouri border, and in Conway, Lincoln and White counties. About 15 homes were damaged in Izard County, Jackson said.
Storm spotters reported damaged and overturned vehicles along U.S. 65, north of Clinton.
Video footage from CNN affiliate KATV showed toppled trees and twisted building girders at one damage location.
Scotland, according to Robinson, suffered a fatality and major damage to a highway and homes in a major February 2008 tornado.
The severe weather season started late in Arkansas, according to Robinson, because of a chilly March. “It has been a very slow year.”
Thus far in 2013, six tornadoes have been reported, about half the normal number.
– CNN’s Dave Alsup and meteorologist Sean Morris contributed to this report.