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Ask the Times: How's the tornado cleanup in Faulkner County coming?

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Q: How's the tornado cleanup in Faulkner County coming?

A: The addresses of several homes on Dam Road in Mayflower have been spray-painted on squares of plywood that lean up against a mailbox or what was once a front door. Cars sit along the road, their windows smashed and bricks in their seats. Lots are empty where homes once stood. Whole yards have become upturned wastelands of rubble and mud.

Almost three months after a quarter-mile-wide tornado tore across Faulkner County, much work remains to be done to repair the damage.

Arvid Straschinske, a 68-year-old retired Vietnam veteran who lives behind Dam Road, lost his house in the April 27 storm, but said his shed, which he'd filled and surrounded with a jumble of storage supplies from the debris of his house, only moved six inches.

"I'm 68 years old and I gotta start all over," Straschinske said. "I wouldn't bother rebuilding except for my grandchildren. I want them to have a place to live."

Last week, he was picking up debris while he waited for an engineer from a North Little Rock firm to come "grade" the slopes of his land. He needs the grading information so he can apply for a permit to build a new house, a project he'll have to undertake with the $902 of Social Security money he receives every month and the money his insurance company paid him, an amount, he said, that didn't match what he'd lost.

Church groups and other volunteer organizations continue to help clear the debris, but Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said the county completed its debris removal program early last week. Dodson said the county has stored the debris at three storage and disposal sites, a process that included assistance in the form of dump truck loans from the surrounding Lonoke, Cleburne, Van Buren, Perry and Conway counties.

Faulkner County will contract with the Environmental Protection Agency to set up HAZMAT storage pads for any debris categorized as a biohazard, including household appliances, household chemicals and electronic goods. In the meantime, the county is running controlled burns to dispose of much of the vegetative waste, and will work with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the governor's office to dispose of all removed construction debris, including demolished homes.

Straschinske and fellow Dam Road resident Betty Bellinger said the street looks much cleaner than it did three months ago, thanks to efforts by the county and volunteers, as well as financial and technical support from FEMA and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. But the cleanup process is far from over.

"Once we get the mass of debris out of the way, that doesn't mean it's finished," Dodson said. "Folks have still got to rebuild their lives. They've got to literally rebuild and get out and pick up the last little bits."

Kendell Snyder with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said that ADEM closed its field offices in Mayflower, Vilonia and White County a few weeks ago. For the time being, residents will be responsible for removing any remaining debris themselves.

"When disaster strikes, you find out who your neighbors are," Straschinske said. "Yes sir. You find out who your neighbors are."

— Clayton Gentry

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