AUGUSTA, Ark. – More than a week after Governor Hutchinson met with FEMA officials to tour tornado damage in Northeast Arkansas, The Natural State has received a federal emergency declaration from President Biden.

The approval sends federal aid to the state as communities continue to recover and rebuild following extensive tornado damage at the start of December. 

In Augusta, recovery efforts continue two weeks after an EF-2 storm tore through a neighborhood on the north end of town, destroying 7 houses and causing extensive damage on surrounding streets. Debris is still being cleared from homeowners’ yards and trees deemed a fall risk is cut down and piled up a few miles away on the edge of town. 

Dale and Betty Miller’s home was spared from the wind, but the couple was inside when the tornado passed by. 

“Even in the dark I could see debris starting to come toward us and that’s when I slammed the door,” Dale remembers, looking out his window soon after to see debris thrown across the street and around the corner. 

In the days following, they’ve been part of a massive cleanup effort with volunteers and homeowners clearing the disaster zone one plot at a time. Augusta’s Mayor Jeff Collins says the teamwork has been incredible, adding, “we’ve moved approximately 500 trees out of this area [and] I don’t know how many tons of debris.” 

Collins says he’s thankful to hear that federal funding is headed to Arkansas for tornado victims, but that work on the ground began weeks ago, with volunteers traveling from miles away to help. 

“I couldn’t wait to help people fix their lives,” Collins explained. 

He says the town has been so inundated with donations and local aid, the city plans on taking what is needed to rebuild and then sending the help on to other cities still recovering. It’s a generous notion in the season of giving, but the Millers say the gratitude stretches well past city government, with the greatest Christmas gift of all being the simple notion of surviving. 

“I’m thankful every day of every minute,” Dale said, with Betty adding, “we’re blessed we’re here to celebrate.”