AR residents share stories of surviving Saturday's tornado

KEISER, AR (WMC) - Fighting back tears, Gary Gardner told the story how he and eight other members of his family ran for cover from Saturday's storm in Keiser, Arkansas.

"I hear so many people talk about they're not scared of storms. They've not been close enough," he said.

The relatives hurried to the family's safe room when the storm approached.

"It was like a real hard blow like something hit the house, and it was a real hard suck. The air just felt like I'd never felt the air before," Gardner explained.

The laundry room has no windows, and it's surrounded by cinder blocks with re-bar bracing and a storm door.

Gardner said he put it in when the house was built in 2000 to protect against tornadoes.

"The whole contents is blocks with concrete poured in it," Gardner explained.

By Sunday morning, volunteers were already out helping residents clean up.  First Baptist Church Keiser was leading the charge.

"Stick together and help your neighbor," Pastor Todd Vinson with FBC Keiser said.

For many in East Arkansas, Sunday morning was the first time they were able to get a good look at the damage from Saturday night's storm where one confirmed tornado touched down.

Kansas truck driver Brad Cole and his wife were staying in a first floor room at the Rodeway Inn in Osceola, Arkansas. When the tornado hit, both took cover.

"Happy to be here," Cole said. "There was two guys up on the top floor and the roof's gone over there."

One of the guests on the top floor ran downstairs; the other hid in the bathroom in the upstairs room.

The storm ripped the roof off the motel and blew pieces of the building all through a field right to the Days Inn next door.

"I can't believe how much ended up over here," Edward Moore said.

A few miles away in Keiser, wind tore through the city's library--destroying the roof and sending bricks and insulation flying.

Despite extensive damage to the library building, the staff said the books are surprisingly in pretty good shape. Many of them didn't get wet, and they're trying to get them to Blytheville to save them all

"It was over about as quick as it started, but once I heard that rumbling and roaring, it was getting closer and louder," Cheryl Martin, who was in Keiser, said.

Martin lost a large tree, but just steps away, the town's only convenience store took a direct hit.

"I think it's completely destroyed. I'd have to start completely over," Mark Elder, owner of Keiser Corner Store, said.

Elder said he's not sure if he will rebuild. But, in an odd occurrence, the store wasn't open last night when the storm hit, though it should've been.

Because of staffing issues, Elder closed the store early--a decision that may have saved a life.

"Most likely someone would've gotten hurt if they were in that store because it just would've blew up," Elder said.

Meanwhile, Gary Gardner said he'll have to check out his home for structural damage. All things that can be fixed--as Keiser counts its blessings.

"Thank goodness no one was hurt in all this, and our town wasn't destroyed, but we, we took a pretty hard lick," Gardner said.

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