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Affected by May 26 tornadoes? Find relief resources here.

Disaster relief is needed immediately in Decatur

A nearly destroyed home in Decatur after the May 26 tornadoes.
Jack Travis
A nearly destroyed home in Decatur after the May 26 tornadoes.

Driving northwest on Carlton Drive due west of Decatur, the storm damage is overwhelming. Barns that were once filled with chickens are nearly unrecognizable. Cars and mobile homes are flipped 180 degrees upside down. What was once a heavily forested stretch of road now looks like a timber yard, with enormous trees toppled and stacked on the ground. Mary Hickson lives near the end of Carlton Drive, about 20 minutes from the Oklahoma border. She and her husband Rick were in Jay, Oklahoma when the storm hit; their 26 year old son Ricky was the only one in the house. 

“He was in the closet, and he called us at 1 o’clock in the morning and told us a tornado hit,” Hickson said.

They came back immediately, but because of all the downed trees, it took them about six hours to get to the home.

Once the sun came up on Monday, they saw 30 years of their stuff just sprawled everywhere in a pile of rubble and debris.

“Every time I looked down, I’d see something,” Hickson said. “‘Oh, that goes in the kitchen,’ or all these things that were ours. It was just hard to process all this stuff that we spent so many years with was just trash.”

Hickson said the Federal Emergency Management Agency came to assess the damage. “The mayor [of Decatur] has been out here. He was going to bring Governor Sanders out — this was supposed to be one of his stops [on the Governor’s tour of Decatur] — but I guess instead she preferred to see the damage done with the businesses in Rogers instead of people’s homes.”

She said if she had a chance to talk to Governor Sanders directly, she would tell her people needed helped days ago. “I don’t know about other people, but the ones who have helped us have been family, neighbors, and friends. We didn’t see help from any officials. They didn’t send anybody out here. Thank goodness we have plenty of help, but we’re still in need of help.

“Neighbors are still in need,” Hickson continued. “We have friends who don’t have insurance on their home. They spent a lifetime working on their home trying to remodel and make it theirs. Now, it’s completely flat. It’s frustrating because it’s not quick enough. I know they have to go through all that red tape, but they just need to make it a little faster.”

In the meantime, Hickson and her family are living in a camper that her brother-in-law has loaned connected to a generator, also loaned out by her brother-in-law. She said they’re going through what’s left of the home and taking it to storage, and she can’t help but be overwhelmed as she’s clearing things out.

“I look at it and think I don’t know what to do next,” she said. “I know I have to get it done, but I don’t know what’s next. It goes through my head, ‘I got to do this, and this, and this,’ and then I get out here and I can’t. I can’t go around and look at that stuff. It’s hard.”

Hickson said she thinks the biggest thing for most people — her family included — is they need immediate help from the government, not just friends and family.

“Funding, people need funding to help them get back on their feet.” She gestured to the camper and said with a chuckle, “I love camping out, but we can’t live like this very long. Our neighbors are the ones who need the funding to help them get back on their feet.”

More than 180 members of the Arkansas National Guard are in Benton County as of Friday, May 31. Officials from the Guard say they were initially called for two assignments: providing potable water and assisting law enforcement. Bob Oldham with the Arkansas National Guard at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock said if Benton County services or the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management want them to help with things like using chainsaws or any other reassignment of duties, it must be sent up the chain and approved by Guard leadership. But, Oldham said they plan on being there and staying there.

“Know that we’re there for the long haul going to be there to help out Benton County as long as we’re needed,” Oldham said. “If there’s a need, and the Arkansas National Guard can fill it, and the governor approves, we’re going to be there to help.”

You can find a list of resources here.

Ozarks at Large transcripts are created on a rush deadline by reporters. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of KUAF programming is the audio record.

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Matthew Moore is senior producer for Ozarks at Large.
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