VILONIA, Ark. – Nine years ago Thursday is a day that will never be forgotten in Arkansas after an EF-4 tornado ripped through multiple cities, killing a total of 16 people.
On April 27, 2014, a tornado went through Ferndale, Mayflower, El Paso and Vilonia causing thousands of lives to be torn, turned and twisted.
James Firestone was Vilonia’s mayor at the time. The catastrophic damage from 2014 led to a visit from President Barack Obama.
“We had a press conference over at Parkwood Meadows over on the north side of town. That little subdivision had 56 houses and 55 of them were totally destroyed,” Firestone said.
The homes at Parkwood Meadows were totally gone, leaving nothing but concrete slabs. Firestone said the city of Vilonia had over 160 structures that were a total loss.
“Even the folks from FEMA said it’s unusual to have more total losses than you do minor and major together,” the former mayor said.
The twister came as Vilonia was still recovering from an EF-2 tornado in 2011. Firestone said he remembers walking out to look at the damage in 2011 and thought, “What could be worse?”
“I wish I hadn’t asked that question because in 2014 I got an answer,” Firestone said.
Nine years later, homes at the Parkwood Meadows subdivision where the president visited, slabs remain the same as they did in 2014, empty.
But one brick at a time, the neighborhood is being restored. Robert Isham with Isham Construction has rebuilt a number of homes there. He said on April 27, 2014, he never thought he’d see what he saw.
“You think that you’re going to see some destruction and then you see a complete neighborhood missing,” Isham said.
Several homes have been built over the nine years, leaving just a few concrete slabs left. Isham says it’s an unmatched feeling to be a part of the reason people can find light in the darkness.
“From the devastation to the rebuild and people moving back into their homes was quite rewarding,” he says.
So, for those affected in Central Arkansas and Wynne by the March 31st tornado, it may take time but that light with soon shine.
“People will get back on their feet. As long as they have hope and faith it will all come back around,” Isham said.
The near decade-old tornado was the deadliest single tornado in Arkansas since May 15, 1968, when Jonesboro was hit.
“I know it’s hard, but you have to take it one day at a time and do the best that you can do,” Firestone said.