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Mother Nature repeatedly hammers Arkansas

How much can one state take? In the past two months, Arkansas has suffered through a tornado outbreak that killed 13, a foot of snow, a foot of rain and near-record flooding.
Arkansas Storm
Tornado damage is seen in Hurricane Creek trailer park, on Friday, in Benton, Ark. After hitting Little Rock, the storm moved into the city's northeastern suburbs. Mike Wintroath / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

How much can one state take? In the past two months, Arkansas has suffered through a tornado outbreak that killed 13, a foot of snow, a foot of rain and near-record flooding.

Now a tornado has hit the capital city and residents have to be wondering what's next.

Since the night of Arkansas' Super Tuesday primary in early February, the sky just hasn't stop hurling rain, wind and disaster across the Southern state.

"We've been assaulted by Mother Nature over the last few months," Gov. Mike Beebe said.

Across the state, nights are filled with red and blue emergency lights flashing across wet streets strewn with pine needles and limbs thrown by tornadoes. Days remain soaked by muddy floodwaters that lap across front doors and seep into molding furniture.

Thirteen people died after two tornadoes screamed through the state Feb. 5. One snaked over cross-country Interstate 40 on its 123-mile path.

In the time since, more than a foot of snow fell at points in Arkansas' Ozark Mountains. Swollen rivers spilled into farm pastures and bayous across Arkansas' eastern Delta region in March, killing two. Another man remains missing.

South of the capital city in Benton, Thursday's storm destroyed a dozen homes at the Hurricane Creek Mobile Home Park. Emergency workers had trouble responding because downed power lines and trees blocked the main entry road. 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.

Benton police Capt. Roger Gaither said a total of 70 trailers suffered some sort of damage.

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

'Out to get us'
Across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, a tornado tossed private airplanes aside at a municipal airport. One plane landed on its propeller nose, standing upright against an otherwise unscathed fuel truck.

Even forecasters at the National Weather Service office at the airport had to take cover. The tornado tore down a flag pole, threw sheet metal into a car and damaged antennas, said meteorologist Dan Koch said

"It just seems like it's one thing after another," Koch said. "I think Mother Nature is out to get us."

New rain offered new fuel to flooded rivers. Since Tuesday, the White River at Newport rose more than three feet. Down river at Clarendon, the river maintained its 32-foot high.

Koch said water from Thursday's storm shouldn't cause the swollen rivers to rise too much more. Instead, it will extend its already slow retreat from flooded fields.

The pounding Arkansas has taken is believed to have come from jet stream patterns over the state, Koch said. Cold fronts from the north continue to drop into the state and stall, colliding with air rising up from the Gulf Coast.

"We're setting up kind of a battleground between the warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and the colder air coming down from the polar areas," Koch said. "We're kind of like a broken record. It just keeps coming back and back and back again."

Practice makes perfect for disaster response
That repetition shows in other ways in the state lately. Arkansas saw two visits by the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in about a month's time. Victims described cowering in hallways and closets, holding onto their pets and family.

Again, the storms showed their fickle nature by sending a tree into one SUV in tiny Cammack Village, while two giant oaks around the corner fell between two BMW sedans, leaving them untouched.

And again, the governor toured another mobile home park struck by a storm. He passed residents carrying out their belongings in trash bags in front of a crowd of officials and reporters who wouldn't have been there a day before.

Beebe stopped to hug one weeping woman and took in the sight of the charred remains of the mobile home destroyed by fire.

"You think we're going to catch a break after all our people have been through — tornadoes to floods to tornadoes to more floods — but you never can count on it," Beebe said.

"Unfortunately, we're getting too good at this disaster response. We've had too many instances where we've had to do it. You want to be good at it, but you hate it."