By FOX News Radio’s Tonya J. Powers
The Vilonia United Methodist Church was hit hard when a deadly EF4 tornado hit Vilonia, Arkansas on April 27, 2014. I arrived in town the following evening to report on the damage and loss it left behind. The church building was destroyed, a clear testimony to the power of the wind that took trees down, left power lines everywhere, and lots of debris in its wake.
FLASHBACK: WATCH FOX News Radio’s Tonya J. Powers reporting from Vilonia, Arkansas the day after the tornado hit:
A couple of things have stayed with me since seeing the church’s damage in April: one was the church bulletin I found lying on the ground in front of the damaged building, printed for the last service that would be held in it. The other was the church bell, originally a part of the sign out front, proudly letting people know it was a house of worship.
When I arrived, the bell no longer hung from the sign. It was turned upside down on the ground nearby.
During my return visit in October, six months after the storm, this is what the sign looked like. It has been left alone for the most part, but you can clearly see the work that has gone on behind it.
The original red-brick building was torn down, and in its place stands a temporary building that is used by the church for services while a new, bigger church is completed in the building behind it. Before the tornado, that building was a family center. While it sustained damage, church officials say they were able to use the framework to rebuild it into what will be the main church building.
As for the church sign, Pastor Nathan Kilborn tells me they will decide on what to do with it at some point in the future.
Kieth’s Valero gas station was also damaged in the tornado. A ‘self-serve’ sign at the pump dangled, while glass from the convenience store windows was broken and jagged. Standing water could be seen inside on the floor, but most of the merchandise on the shelves had stayed put, despite the strong winds produced by the storm.
The owners are now building back Kieth’s bigger and better. The metal frame of the building is up, and work continues. In one photo, you can see a flag flying on one end of the frame. That’s one of the American flags distributed by the Boy Scouts of Vilonia.
This is another lasting memory I have of seeing the devastation in Vilonia, AR the day following the tornado. This American flag had been attached to this telephone pole in front of Kieth’s Valero gas station. People I spoke with seemed to rally around it, and told me it lifted their spirits to see it there.
Six months later, it still hangs from that telephone pole. Cleanup and recovery continues around it, but the flag still holds its honored spot.
The homemade sign below it conveys the sentiment that so many in Vilonia told me they live by – faith.
I spoke with several people when I went back, and asked them the question that others want to know when a natural disaster like this strikes: Why do you stay here?
Michelle McGee, who was huddled inside her home with her kids and boyfriend when the tornado destroyed it, answered that question matter-of-factly:
“This is my town. My church is gone, my house is gone, but we have family, we have friends, we have community. We didn’t want for anything after the storm because we have so much love here. Why would you leave that, no matter what?”
WATCH FOX News Radio’s Tonya J. Powers reporting from Vilonia, Arkansas:
LISTEN to Tonya J. Powers’ reporting from Vilonia: