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After tornadoes tear through Little Rock, North Texas groups rush to aid Arkansas residents

A home is damaged and trees are down after a tornado swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023.
Andrew DeMillo
A home is damaged and trees are down after a tornado swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday, March 31, 2023.

At least 54 Arkansas residents were injured and one is dead after the March 31 tornadoes, according to a spokesperson with the National Weather Service.

After several tornadoes touched down across the United States, from southern states to Delaware in the northeast, North Texas disaster relief organizations have spent days in neighboring Arkansas to help residents recover.

The Associated Press reports at least 32 people are dead across the U.S., and the National Weather Service confirmed at least two tornadoes tore through Little Rock, Arkansas on March 31, according to preliminary data.

"Most tornadoes are small — we praise God for that — they don't require a lot of equipment and a large volunteer force to respond," said Scottie Stice, director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief program. "Something like Little Rock's going to be a little bit different."

The Southern Baptists, based in Grapevine, left for Little Rock hours after the tornadoes hit. The group works with about 6,000 volunteers. Not all of them went to Arkansas, but Stice said those who did are planning to serve 3,500 meals to tornado survivors on Monday, along with other disaster relief groups.

As a faith-based organization, Stice said disaster relief is part of the convention's ministry. Chaplains also accompanied the volunteers to provide comfort to residents amid what was a traumatic weekend for some.

The recovery process could take weeks, he said.

"We will stay so long as there's a need that we'll be able to meet," Stice said.

The National Weather Service said there were likely four or more tornadoes that hit Arkansas, the strongest being an EF-3 — the third strongest type of tornado. Speeds of 165 miles per hour left trees toppled and some homes torn apart for more than 30 miles, according to meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh.

"Having a tornado in any metro area is pretty rare, and people — especially young people — are going remember that for the rest of their lives," he said.

At least 54 Arkansas residents were injured and one is dead after the March 31 tornadoes, Cavanaugh said. The death was caused by a heart attack prompted by the tornado.

President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for Arkansas on Sunday and made FEMA aid available to residents.

In the wake of the disaster, Arkansas emergency management officials put out a call for help in surrounding areas, according to John Hall with Texas Baptist Men. Like the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, he said his organization was asked to send multiple teams to Little Rock.

Nearly 100 men and women operated a mobile kitchen for survivors Monday. Texas Baptist Men also brought teams to take chainsaws to fallen trees and help clear the rest of what Hall said was extensive damage.

"Honestly, there's a lot of tears, there's a lot of hugs going around, just to help people push forward and find the strength to push forward in a situation like this," he said.

Hall said after responding to previous tornado damage in Mississippi late last month and the threat of more severe weather to come, he's glad North Texas volunteers have been given the opportunity to help those in need.

"These are the people you see and care about every day who are now pouring their hearts and pouring their lives into someone who is living in the most difficult days of their lives," he said.

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.