Arkansas storms leave mounds of debris

April 23, 1996
Web posted at: 12:05 p.m. EDT

FORT SMITH, Arkansas (CNN) -- Rhonda Wheeler stood amid the ruins of her home. The walls were blown out, glass was everywhere and the roof was gone. (755K QuickTime movie)

first woman

The scene was repeated across northwestern Arkansas following the tornado Sunday night that killed four people and left at least 300 homeless (Storm damage photo gallery).

"It's devastating," Wheeler said. (145K AIFF sound or 145K WAV sound) "I just can't believe that in 1 or 2 minutes it can do this much. There was a car in my swimming pool this morning."

Janniece Johnson described the tornado as a loud swooshing sound that roared through her house as she and her family jumped into the bathtub for protection. (196K AIFF sound or 196K WAV sound)

"We ran to the shower and we jumped in," Johnson said. "Then the windows started popping and the house began to rock and shake."(179K AIFF sound or 179K WAV sound)

Janniece Johnson

"We ran to the shower and we jumped in. Then the windows started popping and the house began to rock and shake."

-- Janniece Johnson

As distraught residents cleared away wreckage, Federal Emergency Management Agency inspectors began touring the area to assess the damage, Arkansas officials said.

Work crews were repairing downed power lines and removing debris from toppled trees and buildings. In downtown Fort Smith where a tornado touched down, bulldozers scooped up what was left of many historic buildings.

donations and shelter

Among those killed were a 2-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy who lived six blocks from each other near the downtown district. A father and his 10-year-old son died when another storm moved in and crushed their house.

A state of emergency was declared Monday by Gov. Jim Guy Tucker. The storms devastated six counties, and damage was estimated in the millions of dollars.

The Red Cross reported damage to 636 homes, 30 apartments and 217 businesses. Of those, 35 houses, five apartments and 78 businesses were beyond repair.

Not a single home was spared in the Cedar Creek subdivision in Van Buren. Temporary housing shelters were set up for about 330 homeless residents.

"I spent three years in Vietnam and didn't know fear until last night," Bill McAdams said Monday as he surveyed what little was left of his Van Buren home.

From CNN Correspondent Ed Garsten

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