“The Dumas Storm”
by Matt Conner, Park Ranger White River National Wildlife Refuge
White River NWR law enforcement officers Richard Gray and Brad Rabalais were called on by the Arkansas County Sheriff’s Office to offer assistance to the residents of Dumas Arkansas after a tornado devastated the community on February 24th. Richard and Brad had been listening to the area updates as tornados formed across southeastern Arkansas and were asked to respond for search and rescue efforts in Dumas and neighboring FWS lands.
Brad and Richard quickly gathered their emergency medical gear and drove south from St Charles towards the path of destruction left in the wake of the storm. Dumas was only about a 60 mile drive from St Charles with the devastation being greater as every mile passed. Brad said he was looking at debris along the road when he noticed several white objects in the field. As he strained to see what the objects were, he realized he was looking at dozens of snow geese that had been caught in the path of the storm and thrown to the ground where they now lay.
“We thought this was something until we entered the path of the tornado. Laying in the middle of the highway was a mobile home that had been plucked up from some other location and deposited here in the middle of the highway!”, said Richard. A front end loader pushed the home out of the way and they continued into Dumas dodging power lines and other debris strewn about the road.
As they entered Dumas, they saw a deer running through the city streets disoriented by the storm. The animal ran through yards and dodged patrol vehicles as it tried to comprehend what had occurred.
Brad and Richard reported to the command center at a nearby church where they were deputized as state police and given orders by the Arkansas State Police Department. Their orders were to patrol the city and enforce an immediate city curfew. As they patrolled they asked people to return to their homes for the curfew. Several people responded that they had no home to return to. They told Brad and Richard that they lost everything and had nowhere to go. For those that had no homes, Brad and Richard escorted them to a shelter in a local church.
They encountered other victims that had equally tragic and horrific tales of the storm. Employees at McDonald’s told stories of people crawling through the drive up window to escape the storm. Two small children were airlifted to Little Rock Hospital and 40 patients were treated locally for injuries sustained that evening. Many businesses were leveled and over 80 homes were annihilated.
Brad and Richard spent the rest of the evening enforcing the city curfew, consoling storm victims, and providing people with information about available aid and locations of additional shelters. They helped to restore order in the city until command units could be established and recovery efforts begun. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was proud to be able to lend a hand to a local community during such a traumatic time.