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Neighbors, police and National Guard band together for Arkansas tornado recovery

Tornadoes that tore across central and southern states left at least 16 people dead, 14 of them in Arkansas. Judy Woodruff talks to Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe from Little Rock for an update on the strength of the tornado, the recovery efforts and how citizens had prepared ahead of time.

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    As we said, Governor Beebe visited the affected sites today. He joined us from Little Rock a short time ago.

    Governor Mike Beebe, thank you very much for talking with us.

    And, first of all, we're so sorry for the loss of life.

  • GOV. MIKE BEEBE, D, Ark.:

    Well, thank you, Judy. It's a tragedy any time you see these disasters.

    But I assume you have seen a number of pictures of the damage. And, basically, it's a surprise that haven't — that we didn't lose more lives. I think it's a credit to a lot of folks, including the news media that broadcasts, the weather service that broadcasts the warnings, as well as sirens and people being more alert and more aware.


    Based on what you were able to see today, how bad was this storm?


    Well, we have seen storms that covered more area. We have seen storms with greater coverage in terms of destruction, but in the areas where this particular tornado hit, I don't know that I have ever seen anything that was as strong.

    We saw steel beams that were twisted and torn. In fact, we saw in one area a steal beam that had been anchored in cement as an anchor for a building, and the entire anchorage, the cement and the anchor, all of it was actually pulled out from the ground and twisted.

    The devastation in terms of the violence of this tornado probably is as bad as I have seen.


    You mentioned the advance warning people had. What would people have had to do in the worst-hit sections understood to in order to stay safe?


    Well, those that had the safe rooms — and in one community, this was the second time that community had been hit. So that community was more attuned to safety precautions, and a lot of them had safety rooms.

    But then there were also safe shelters that you could get to with sufficient warning, and, absent that, the interior portions of their home. We heard stories — we had — I heard a story of one gentleman who had three daughters, and they got in a bathtub. And the entire house was just a shambles. There was nothing standing in the house.

    And, apparently, they all survived because, even though the bathtub was picked up and turned over. It was sufficient protection that they only had minor scratches.

    On the other hand, we had a situation where a lady had built an actual tornado structure safe room in the home. And the home was gone. The only thing left standing was the safe room, but she perished. And the reason apparently was that some debris hit the door to that safe room and came on in.


    So, are people now getting the help they need from local, from state and federal agencies?


    Yes, yes.

    We're a resilient people. I think most states — I like to brag on us being able to do this. I suspect most states follow the same pattern. But neighbors and friends and volunteers and then certainly local law enforcement, as well as state agencies, state police, the various state agencies that have heavy equipment that can move debris out of the way, certainly, the National Guard, and all the other agencies such as forestry and highway department and certainly game and fish and parks and tourism, they all band together.

    They are well-coordinated. They're on the scene very, very quickly. In this case, it happened during the nighttime hours, and so it was more difficult in some areas to be able to see, so they all work together to try to first clear the way so that rescue and emergency responders could get into the areas, and then secondly be able to do the search and rescue.


    And, finally, Governor, we know that there are more tornadoes reported today that have touched today in the Southeast. There are more warnings posted for tomorrow.

    What sort of preparations are in place for moving forward?


    Well, of course, the good news for us is that most of this bad weather pattern has passed east of us.

    Bad news is, as you pointed out, it's going to hit other states. In fact, our sister states east of us have already apparently suffered some significant tornadic activity. And so what they need to do is the same thing that they always know how to do and the same thing that we do. And that is, monitor the weather, pay attention to the warnings, take shelter when they tell you to. Don't be — don't try to be something you are not in terms of riding out a storm.

    Take it seriously and move to places of safety where — when at all possible.


    Good — good warning for everyone to keep in mind in the path of these storms.

    Governor Mike Beebe of Arkansas, we thank you.


    You are more than welcome.

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