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Mena Arkansas Tornado April 9, 2009

By J.M. Rowe N5XFW

At 7:25 PM the National Weather Service in North Little Rock issued the first of several warnings for Polk County.


James Carnathan N5AD issues warnings over the Mena 2 meter repeater after seeing on television that a severe storm was headed directly for Mena. As the storm increased in intensity, several hams came on the repeater passing along observations. Amy Thor AG4HH, liaison to the county Emergency Management office, provided updates to the repeater from the sheriff and other agencies. As the funnel touched down, N5AD could see from his vantage point that Mena was directly in the path of this very large tornado.


Amy Thor AG4HH and James Carnathan N5AD (Photo by N5XFW)

Later classified as an EF 3, this storm damaged 600 buildings and homes, sent 30 people to the hospital, and caused 3 fatalities.


Carnathan called for all able-bodied volunteers to come to the staging area so they could be assigned various tasks. Since the county and city repeaters were not damaged, the hams were not needed for strictly communications duties. The hams put on their other hats as Traffic Control, Search and Rescue, Volunteer Fire, and other capacities. Work continues today with Thor helping in the command post and other hams working with the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Baptist Men, and other agencies.

Don Thomas Jr. W5RPC and his wife were among those to lose their residence.

W5RPC QTH (Photo by N5XFW)

The back half of the home was destroyed, leaving only the front porch and one room. The damage path can be seen in the background, viewing west-southwest. Don says, “We were very lucky to not be injured at all.” Don’s mother-in-law lives across the street, and her house suffered only a broken window and a limb in the roof.


A tour of the affected area reveals uprooted 150 year-old trees, gas pipes and phone lines out of the ground, and power lines strewn everywhere. What you will not see are people sitting on their hands waiting for help.

(Photo by N5XFW)

In Mena today, fire wood and used lumber, flat bottom boats, pre-owned campers, and of course fine experienced automobiles are available cheap!

(Photos by Mattie Smith, used by permission)

The courthouse and Sheriff’s Office were damaged as well. Note the tower in the first picture that looks like it was mashed over. The trees in the front on the courthouse were at least 3 feet across. All the prisoners were moved to another location, presumably not Guantanamo Bay. The 911 calls are now rerouted to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and then relayed back to Polk County via the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN) for dispatch to the appropriate agency.

(Photos by Mattie Smith, used with permission)

You’ve heard of blown insulation


(Photo by Mattie Smith, used by permission)

The folks in Mena have a mess to clean up. It will take a little while, but they will do it.


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