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Arkansas residents clean up tornado damage while bracing for more storms

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

More severe weather is expected to hit the U.S. this week. This after a series of destructive tornadoes and storms tore through parts of the South, Midwest and Northeast leaving more than 30 people dead. In Arkansas, residents are cleaning up. Daniel Breen from member station KUAR reports.

DANIEL BREEN, BYLINE: Sounds of tornado and police sirens have now been replaced by the steady thrum of chainsaws and helicopters. Last week's EF3 tornado cut a roughly 30-mile path of destruction through central Arkansas, with the heaviest damage in the mostly residential neighborhoods of west Little Rock. Speaking about an hour after the storm, resident Ariel Gutierrez said she was caught off guard in the shower when the tornado hit.

ARIEL GUTIERREZ: It was just dark, so I just got out. I didn't know what to do. I heard a loud bang. I was like, what do I do? I didn't know where to run.

BREEN: Many details are still unclear, but five deaths have been confirmed in Arkansas. As many as 2,100 homes and businesses in Little Rock were in the tornado's path. The disaster response has been swift, with crews of volunteers cutting trees, riding overturned cars and helping residents pick up the pieces.

BECCA WEBB: We found pool cues in the dining room over here, and charcuterie boards that should have been in the dining room were in an upstairs bedroom. But, also, there was furniture and paintings on the wall that were completely undisturbed.

BREEN: Elementary school teacher Becca Webb said that while she was stuck in traffic trying to get to her father's home, someone helped clean it up for free without their even knowing it.

WEBB: All of this got chopped and stacked. All that brick got moved out of our way. I have no idea who did it.

BREEN: Her family had been on the fence about selling their home of 56 years, but Webb says it's time for a new story to be written after the rubble clears. She's hoping to take an insurance payout and sell what's left of her family's lot.

WEBB: I mean, it's where we gather for all of our holidays and everything. And so nobody was ready to bite the bullet and make a decision yet, but I guess we will now.

BREEN: President Biden has approved the state's request for a major disaster declaration, freeing up federal dollars for recovery efforts. Shelters are open through the week in Little Rock, but the National Weather Service says some of the same areas hit hard by the storm could face the potential for more severe weather later this week.

For NPR News, I'm Daniel Breen in Little Rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEGENDARY SKIES' "ALEUTIAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Breen
Daniel Breen is a third-year undergraduate journalism student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.