The worst night

by Angie Davis

Sunday, April 27, 2014, will be a day I will never forget.

Tornado damage along Highway 365 at Mayflower. (Sonja Keith photo)

It started out like any other day for a photographer, with an assignment in Little Rock and an engagement photo planned. I contacted the bride to let her know we needed to reschedule her engagement session because it was such a yucky day.

Later that evening, I was at home in Vilonia when I heard a TV meteorologist informing everyone of a tornado headed toward Maumelle. I looked at my husband, Brian, and said, “The last tornado that hit here came from that direction.”

He called our son, Dallas, who was at a friend’s house with an underground shelter. He told him to stay in the shelter until we called. Then he disappeared while I was hanging on every word on TV. It didn’t take long for the map to show that our little town was once again in the path of a storm with a confirmed tornado.

I called out for my husband, wondering where he was. He answered back letting me know he had made room for us in the room under our stairs. He came into the living room, put a bullet proof vest on me and showed me where the first aid kit and tourniquet were.

With just a few minutes left before the tornado was to make its grand entrance into Vilonia, I heard someone on the news saying that it was headed between Beryl Road and Walker Road, which is where we live. Then Brian joined me under the stairs. Seconds later we could clearly hear the tornado over the blaring TV. We sat together, listening to the roar and waiting for the house to start shaking or the roof to be blown off, but neither happened.

All of a sudden the noise stopped. I was so confused. Very relieved, but confused. I thought maybe it petered out. Maybe it changed directions. Maybe it was just a small tornado. Either way my house was still standing, and my family was okay. Thank God!

Then the sirens started from emergency vehicles from every direction. I have never heard so many sirens in my life. Hearing all these sirens totally ruined all my hopes that the tornado had just petered out.

First thing was to call Dallas. We kept calling and texting him, but no answer. At first I thought he just didn’t have cell coverage because he was still underground. After more time passed, I just couldn’t hang on to that reason for him not answering.

Then “what if” thoughts started coming into my mind — what if he didn’t go into the storm shelter, what if he came out of the shelter and then got hurt, what if? My mind was racing after almost 10 minutes of not being able to reach him. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and asked Brian if we could go look for him.

I was in tears, trying to keep from hyperventilating. I was terrified something had happened to my son. Brian was trying to calm me down when I received a call from a number I didn’t know.

It was Dallas! He told me his phone didn’t have cell coverage, and he finally found someone whose phone did.

I have never felt so relieved in my entire life. After we finally got in touch with Dallas, we headed into town to see what we could do to help. We were turned around due to a gas leak. We were starting to figure out just how bad this tornado was.

We started going down random roads to see if we could help anyone. We kept finding people who were OK, but their homes, barns, animals, equipment, vehicles — everything — was gone.

With the electricity out and no moon and stars, that night was the darkest night I have ever experienced. Pure blackness, sirens, rumors of death, the need for more ambulances and the smell of a gas leak made that night the worst ever in Vilonia.

Early the next morning, Brian and I went our separate ways. He had loaded his truck and tractor, and I was on assignment with my camera. Vilonia is a very small town, but I put more than 100 miles on my vehicle that day and never left Vilonia.

I headed to South Beryl Road where many people were just standing in front of what was left of their homes. The looks on their faces were all the same — shock, disbelief and thankfulness.

Yes, their things were scattered between Faulkner County and Northeast Arkansas, but people were happy to be alive.

Many of the people I met had no insurance, and now they had nothing but the clothes on their backs, but they were still alive to see another day.