Tornado Rips Through Little Rock, Ark., Damaging Airport; Injuries Reported

Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday a tornado that hit central Arkansas, damaging businesses, felling trees and knocking out power to 47,000 customers brought with it another set of problems to a weather-weary state.

One person was reported dead in a traffic accident.

"We've been assaulted by mother nature over the last few months," Beebe said. Over the past two months, parts of Arkansas have endured an EF4 tornado during a storm outbreak that killed 13, a foot of snow, upward of a foot of rain and near-record flooding.

"The ground's already saturated," Beebe said. "The lakes and the reservoirs are already full, so all the additional rainfall increases the problems significantly."

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The storm Thursday night hit Little Rock and its suburbs, damaging a large number of homes and businesses. At North Little Rock, it damaged airplanes at an airport and passed over the local office of the National Weather Service. Forecasters had to temporarily take shelter.

Near Benton, a dozen homes were destroyed at the Hurricane Creek Mobile Home Park. Emergency workers had trouble responding because downed power lines and trees blocked the main road in. A gas leak caused by a felled tree ignited a fire that destroyed one of the trailers.

"It was just a ball of fire," said state Sen. Shane Broadway, D-Bryant.

Benton Police Capt. Roger Gaither said 70 trailers suffered some sort of damage.

"It's amazing. It's just totally amazing that no one was really hurt," Gaither said.

Entergy Arkansas spokesman James Thompson said there were 38,500 customers without power Friday morning. That includes 18,500 in the Little Rock area, 8,200 in the Jacksonville and Cabot areas, 9,300 in Hot Springs and 1,300 in Faulkner County.

First Electric Cooperatives said it had 8,500 customers out in central Arkansas.

Thompson had no estimate for when power would be restored. He said numerous power poles were broken by the high winds and that numerous lines are down.

"It's going to be a long day," Thompson said. The utility had made arrangements Thursday with neighboring states to send line crews in anticipation of the bad weather.

Flash flooding was reported across much of the state as heavy rain continued to fall after the tornado's passing. High water closed parts of Interstate 30 for a time in Saline County but by 9 a.m. the water was receding. In Hot Spring County, deputies were having trouble reaching some parts of the county to block off roads covered by water.

Beebe said there was one traffic-related death in Clark County, and a report of a missing woman in Pulaski County. State police spokesman Bill Sadler said the preliminary assessment from troopers at the scene of the Friday morning crash on I-30 was that heavy rain played a role in the accident.

In the Cammack Village area of Little Rock, near the Arkansas River, residents were walking their dogs Friday morning and looking at the damage. Steve Bauman, 55, said he and his wife hid in an interior bathroom of their house after a tornado siren sounded for the second time Thursday night.

"We felt the house shaking so we figured it hit on the back of the house," Bauman said. The high winds lopped off the top of a pine tree in the Baumans' back yard, and a limb pierced the cathedral ceiling of their bedroom. Bauman said he slept to the sound of water dripping into a pot he placed under the hole.

Neighbor Jeff Melville, 45, said his front door began to shake as the storm passed.

"I didn't move fast enough, I should have been (away from) there five minutes earlier," Melville said while his dog Daisy dog sniffed at fresh pine needles blown down the night before. "I grabbed her, touched the front doorway and ran to the hallway," he said. Melville's home suffered shingle damage, though downed limbs lay scattered in the neighborhood's small park.

Thursday night in Cammack Village, a community of 1,000 surrounded by northwest Little Rock, police and firefighters went door-to-door to check on residents.

Gregory Greene, 39, watched as the tornado passed through part of Little Rock.

"I thought I was going to die," Greene said.

"I saw debris flying around in a circle when I was about to go in and pick up my girlfriend from work," Greene said outside an Andy's Restaurant. "Stuff was going around in circles.

"About that time, it pushed her up against the building and knocked me down and pushed me under that truck," Greene said. While he was under the truck, the storm flipped a car in the next parking space. His right elbow was rubbed raw.

Susann Walters, 55, said she hid in a closet with her two dogs and a cat as the storm approached Cammack Village. "It was probably 30-45 seconds," Walter said. "It was quick."

A tree from her front yard smashed the hood and windshield of a neighbor's SUV but her bungalow home lost only a few shingles. She was still blocked in, though, with trees down across either end of the street.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said as lightning filled the sky and the roar of chain saws pierced the night.

At the North Little Rock Airport, a single-engine Cessna lay on its nose propellor against a fuel truck near the runway Friday morning. The winds also tore into one metal-sided hangar and cut across the runway heading northeast.

At Benton, a car dealership's surveillance camera caught the storm on tape. After hitting Little Rock, the storm moved into the city's northeastern suburbs. Trees and power lines were reported down in Jacksonville and Cabot. A number of shelters were set up at churches in the region.

As early as last weekend, forecasters had warned of a severe weather outbreak Thursday night.