An EF-4 tornado hit central Arkansas last weekend. Now the last town in Arkansas to suffer a tornado of that magnitude is getting ready to open a new public storm shelter, to keep themselves from becoming victims again.
The people of Denning had no tornado safe room for their community when a deadly tornado hit their town in May 2011.
“We just did not have the funding,” said Denning Treasurer Donna Thomas.
The severe tornado also hit Altus and Etna.
“It’s something that will live with me until I die,” said survivor Randy Harris.
Thomas pioneered the funding for the tornado safe room.
“A dream come true.” Thomas said.
The $400,000 dream construction started in August 2013.
“It has not been an easy process,” Thomas said.
The structure holds 360 people standing.
“It has been worth every moment to get to this point,” Thomas said. “It is something that will give back to a community that three years ago was totally devastated and needed some symbol of hope.”
The final touches are being added on the building. Although the completion date is approaching, some said it has been difficult for those who have no place to go during a tornado.
“Every day when I get up, I think about could those two lives have been saved if we had this shelter,” said Thomas.
Harris as well wonders that. He packed his family and dog named George in his shelter during the deadly twister.
After the storm tore through, a tree left them trapped.
“I pushed up on it and the door wouldn’t open,” said Harris.
A chainsaw eventually set them free.
“I broke down and cried—sad situation,” said Harris.
With a similar situation in central Arkansas that feels like it was yesterday for the citizens of Denning, the safe room will make them feel that much more at home during severe weather.
“Persistence pays off,” Thomas said.
The funding for the project came from federal grants. The safe room is expected to officially open May 9.