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Tornado Survivors Look To Rebuild Shattered Lives

VILONIA — The tornado that demolished Brett Kingrey’s home left few items intact.

Sifting through debris Tuesday in Vilonia’s Parkwood Meadows neighborhood, Kingrey and a few helpers came across a computer keyboard that still had all of its keys except for the control key.

“We lost control a long time ago,” Kingrey said.

A tornado that touched down in western Pulaski County on Sunday evening created a path of destruction 40 miles long and up to three-quarters of a mile wide through Pulaski, Faulkner and White counties, leaving 15 people dead and more than 100 injured. Damage also occurred in Independence and Jackson counties, but it was not immediately clear whether it was caused by the same tornado or a second.

In Mayflower and Vilonia, the hardest hit communities, survivors were gathering up salvageable belongings Tuesday and considering how to rebuild their lives.

Kingrey, a facilities planner who works with school districts across the state, was in Mountain Home when the tornado hit.

“My wife texted me, and the last text I got was, ‘It’s here,’” he said.

At home with Leslie Kingrey at the time were the couple’s 5-year-old son, Austin, their 14-month-old daughter, EllaGrace, Leslie Kingrey’s 75-year-old father, Louie Irving, and the family dog, Clyde. The family took refuge in Austin’s bedroom — of which only the foundation remained Tuesday.

Irving was thrown about 20 yards and received a serious arm injury, while Austin was thrown about 40 yards and was left “black and blue from head to toe,” Brett Kingrey said. Leslie Kingrey suffered numerous bruises, but EllaGrace, wrapped inside a carpet by her mother for protection, emerged unhurt.

On Monday, Brett Kingrey found Clyde buried under debris.

“I was able to dig him out, and he was OK. So all of us are OK,” he said.

Kingrey said the family had insurance and should be able to rebuild. He said the family is more concerned about neighbors who did not survive the storm.

“We have nothing to complain about. We have all of our family intact,” he said.

President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration Tuesday for Faulkner County, allowing residents and businesses to apply for federal disaster aid. Gov. Mike Beebe has declared Faulkner, Pulaski and White counties disaster areas.

The tornado struck two days after the third anniversary of a 2011 tornado that leveled part of Vilonia and killed four people. Danae Wilson of Vilonia said experiencing two deadly tornadoes in such a short time is hard on a community — though she had not heard anyone talk of moving away.

“I think it makes people a little gun shy, but what do you do? You’ve got to rebuild,” said Wilson, whose home survived the 2011 storm but was destroyed Sunday while her family took shelter elsewhere.

Wilson’s family was renting and had no renter’s insurance. She said that when she came back to find the home — and much of Parkwood Meadows — destroyed Sunday night, “I dropped to my knees. We had just lost everything.”

According to the Pulaski, Faulkner and White county sheriff’s offices, the people killed Sunday were:

• Rebekah Tittle, 14, of Paron.

• Robert Tittle, 48, of Paron.

• Tori Tittle, 20, of Paron.

• Mark Bradley, 51, of Mayflower.

• Helen Greer, 72, of Mayflower.

• Robert Oliver, 82, of Mayflower.

• Jayme Collins, 50, of Vilonia.

• Jeffrey Hunter, 22, of Vilonia.

• Dennis Lavergne, 52, of Vilonia.

• Glenna Lavergne, 53, of Vilonia.

• David Mallory, 58, of Vilonia.

• Cameron Smith, 8, of Vilonia.

• Tyler Smith, 7, of Vilonia.

• Daniel Wassom, 31, of Vilonia.

• Paula Blakemore, 55, of El Paso.

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