On Saturday, April 25, a group of eight Ouachita Baptist University students and a staff sponsor aided in disaster relief projects in Mena, Ark.
On April 9, an F3 tornado struck the small town of about 6,000 people. The tornado reportedly was a quarter of a mile wide and was on the ground for 14 miles, damaging thousands of homes, destroying hundreds of structures and killing three people. The Ouachita students and staff sponsor, Judy Duvall, assistant director of the Ben M. Elrod Center for Family & Community and coordinator of ElderServe, said they were amazed at what they saw.
“The disaster was one of the craziest things I have ever seen,” said Cami Jones, a senior early childhood education major from Mansfield, Texas. ”You see pictures on TV or in the newspaper, but seeing it with your own eyes is totally different. It is a hard concept to grasp that people around you have literally lost everything they own. I saw houses without roofs, trees in bedrooms, cars smashed and telephone poles thrown in front yards like plastic toys. These images will be with me for the rest of my life.”
“We were unprepared for what we saw on the way to our first home site,” Duvall said. ”We had seen pictures on the news and the Internet but unless you see it in person it does not have the same impact. For as far as we could see in every direction from each road we traveled, was devastation. Nearly every home and building had been affected in some way.”
The group spent the day working of a pair of relief projects. They first cleared debris and portions of a roof from another property that had blown onto the home and land of an elderly couple. When they were done, they prayed for them and their future and the man thanked them with tears in his eyes. In the afternoon they worked at the house of an elderly woman on the same street, where another Ouachita staff member, Dan Jarboe, university counselor, and his family joined them in the clean-up efforts. They disassembled the woman’s collapsing garage and collected some of her belongings.
“As we pulled up each layer of wood and debris, we found more and more of her belongings: military pictures, a quilt, Christmas decorations and other family items,” Duvall said. ”It was heartbreaking to see many of these special items damaged from the storm.”
Although it was a long day of hard work, team members said they were happy they could help and found the experience very rewarding.
“I love doing disaster relief and seeing the progress throughout a day helping families clean up and getting back to normal,” said Kathryn Merrill, a junior communication science and disorders major from Keller, Texas. ”It’s also great to sit down and listen to people’s stories. It’s worth it. After six hours, we had a very productive day, sunburns and sore muscles.”
By Emory Jacobs