If you’ve lived in Arkansas long enough you know the potential for tornadoes can threaten Arkansans any month of the year. KFSM Channel 5 (Fort Smith/Fayetteville) Meteorologist Joe Pennington shares his reflection of a Franklin County tornado in the spring of 2011 that literally struck close to home.
"Every spring we brace for the familiar sound of tornado sirens as severe weather season roars into our area. Countless hours are spent tracking severe weather in Northwest Arkansas, and sometimes that weather hits close to home. For me, that day was May 24, 2011.
Late in the night that day we were tracking a violent thunderstorm in Franklin County that appeared ready to produce a tornado at any moment. Then the reports started coming in of a tornado sighting south of my hometown of Altus. Moments later I was doing something I never thought I would be doing, calling out names of streets in the path of a violent tornado, streets I grew up learning to drive on, streets where my family and friends live.
It was a surreal moment of not knowing if everyone would be ok. It became apparent rather quickly that Denning, Arkansas had taken a direct hit from a large and violent tornado. I immediately left the TV station and drove to Denning to check on friends and family. I arrived to find long-time friends sifting through the damaged remains of their homes.
For those of us who grew up in small (very small) town-Arkansas we think the only knowledge of our town comes from a passing sign along the interstate. But what happened over the next few hours was humbling and comforting, as emergency workers from all over Northwest Arkansas started to arrive. Search and rescue teams, off-duty police, EMT, firefighters and the American Red Cross flocked to Denning to help those who had lost everything.
By sunrise, emergency workers – short on sleep – had combed the area finding survivors while the Red Cross, local churches and other response teams started the task of helping people put their lives back together.
It was that moment, when things slowed down; I realized that no matter how small or rural the town, people and relief organizations will spring into action to be the support those affected by disasters desperately need.
It is times like May 24, 2011 that give me faith that no matter the location, or the time, help is never far away. And when disasters strike - that is what really counts."
During April and May, 2011, more than 200 American Red Cross Disaster Workers responded to a series of storms, including tornadoes and floods, that killed 12 Arkansans, injured many and destroyed homes resulting in the opening of Red Cross shelters, mobile feeding and emotional support, in addition to other disaster relief care.