VILONIA, Ark. — The response role for the Arkansas National Guard continued to expand today after a deadly tornado swept through the central Arkansas communities of Mayflower and Vilonia, yesterday.
News media reports said at least 18 people died in the fierce storms that swept the area.
In addition to the 54 Soldiers called to state active duty overnight to assist local authorities with traffic control, search and rescue, and medical evacuation, an additional six Guard members were tasked early this morning to deliver several fresh water trailers to support the needs of local residents and the vast number of volunteers.
The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management also passed a request from the Faulkner County Judge for the National Guard to provide a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and crew to conduct low-level aerial search over the shore line of Lake Conway and through the wooded areas in the path of the storm, for additional victims of the storm.
Initially, 46 members of the Arkansas National Guard were called to state active duty to assist local authorities in the hard-hit communities. That first call-out and subsequent responses from Guard members brought the grim realization that numerous Guardsmen and their family members were directly impacted.
Within the first few hours following the storm, both Army and Air National Guard members began to check in with their commanders and on each other -- neighbor-to-neighbor.
The Arkansas National Guard confirmed that one member perished when the tornado struck the community of Vilonia. The name is being withheld awaiting notification of next-of-kin.
Additionally, dozens of Guard members' homes were damaged or destroyed, and an unconfirmed number of family members were injured or hospitalized.
Despite these difficult circumstances, more than 50 Guard members from the central Arkansas area responded to the call to help their neighbors, friends and fellow families in need.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe summed up the situation in a 10 a.m. press conference in the community of Mayflower.
"These are Arkansans helping Arkansans, like they always do," he said. "Neighbor helping neighbor in a time of need."
Beebe made note that multiple state agencies, nearby communities and a large number of civilian volunteers have responded to help. From a national perspective, Beebe indicated that the federal government pledged to make resources available to help in the recovery and rebuilding of the devastated communities.
The Arkansas National Guard has 59 personnel, 24 vehicles and one UH-60 helicopter supporting the ongoing operations.
Units supporting these missions are the 87th Troop Command, the 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and the 77th Theater Aviation Brigade -- all from the central Arkansas area.