Robin Willhite sorted through the clutter at her Mississippi Delta home Sunday, thankful she and her daughter had survived a twister but wondering where she would celebrate the coming holiday.
“A tornado four days before Christmas. It’s just Arkansas weather,” Willhite said.
Several tornadoes struck the eastern half of the state Saturday, killing a woman in her car near Hughes and injuring several others. Forecasters spread out over the region to assess damage.
At Halley, near the Mississippi River east of Dermott, winds topped out at 110 mph, said John Robinson, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in North Little Rock. The storm was still strong enough to roll a steel storage bin off its supports and into Willhite’s mobile home 50 feet away.
“The wind picked up and just wouldn’t stop,” said Willhite, who took shelter in a bathroom with her daughter instead of running 100 yards to a community shelter.
When the bin jolted them, “I thought I was a goner,” she said.
Willhite told Robinson her cellphone provider had passed along flash flood warnings all day but was silent as the twister approached. Fourteen minutes after the storm struck, her phone chimed to tell her that a tornado was coming, she said, showing him the texts.
The Halley storm knocked over tractor-trailer rigs along U.S. 65, the main route between this part of Arkansas and Little Rock, 110 miles to the northeast. Southbound sections of the highway were down to one lane Sunday as utility crews restrung power lines.
Mike Morgan, the emergency coordinator for Chicot County, said he had about 90 seconds notice before the storm hit. He said he had called workers in Ashley County, to the west, to see if they needed help with their cleanup when the weather service office in Jackson, Miss., which covers his county, called to say Chicot County would be hit, too.
“I had just enough time to grab my family and get underground,” Morgan said. His home and other structures sustained minor damage.
Just down the road, the storm pulled a grain bin off its foundation, dragged down metal sheeting meant to protect farm equipment and caved in doors on a garage at Kenneth Trigleth’s farm. Trigleth, who raises beans, corn and wheat, said he was away at deer camp when the storm hit.
St. Francis County Deputy Sheriff Jason Bradshaw said the woman in Hughes was found in an auto outside her home after the storm. The woman’s name and age were not immediately released. Her 25-year-old daughter and 3-year-old granddaughter also were in the car. A man was found in a nearby field.
Bradshaw said the 3-year-old was hospitalized with a broken arm and leg injuries, and the child’s mother was treated and released. The man is hospitalized in serious condition, Bradshaw said.