Breaking News Emails
VILONIA, Ark. — When the tornado siren started blaring on Sunday, Christian Gunter got to work.
As a big brother, he had to make sure his six younger siblings were following the family's established evacuation plan.
And as manager of his family’s veteran’s long-term care facility, Gunter, 19, was also in charge of corralling the 10 disabled vets that call this place home into the van that would take them to the storm shelter in a church basement a mile down the road.
Gunter’s Veterans Home began in the 1980s as a residential care facility for physically and mentally disabled veterans.
"Mostly guys with PTSD and bipolar disorder, but also physical disabilities as well," Gunter said.
VA social workers place the vets there they think would benefit most from the home’s out-of-the-way, tranquil location.
That tranquility was shattered when Sunday’s tornado barreled over the ridge that separates Gunter's from the rest of Vilonia. The tornado's winds just grazed the sprawling, two-story building.
Gunter said the roof sustained serious damage, but everything else was left standing - — all the veterans emerged from the church shelter unscathed.
Gunter’s own home — the one he shared with his one biological sister, three adopted sisters, two adopted brothers and parents — was destroyed in the twister.
A "total loss," he said, but his family was unharmed.
"This has been part of my life for as long as I can remember," Gunter said as he cleared branches and debris from the veteran home’s bucolic backyard. "I’m just happy everyone made it through all right."
The veterans, aged 57 to 90, were transferred back to the VA facility in Little Rock until the necessary work can be completed to get the home up and running again, but Gunter said he hopes they will be allowed back soon.
"It’s just like having 10 extra grandparents around," he said, smiling.