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Some Ignore Siren As Tornado Strikes Mena, Ark.

3 Killed; 30 Injured, Including 1 In Critical Condition

POSTED: 3:49 pm CDT April 10, 2009
UPDATED: 4:38 pm CDT April 10, 2009

The sirens sounded three times across Mena Thursday night, and residents watched several funnel clouds pass harmlessly over town. The fourth siren was for another twister that ended up being a killer.

While many took cover immediately in the basement of the county courthouse, others stayed home, only to glance out their windows just in time to see the black funnel descend on the community just east of the Oklahoma line. At least three people were killed, at least 30 others injured and 600 homes were damaged or destroyed.

The Polk County coroner has identified the three people who died Thursday night when a tornado hit Mena.

Coroner Richard W. Myhand told The Associated Press that those killed were:

Anna True Cress, 84, killed at the town's Masonic Lodge, where she was attending a meeting of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Judy Lobner, 47, who died in her daughter's home. Myhand said Lobner's daughter was outside the home when the tornado hit, but survived.

Albert Shaw, 61, who died when his two-story home was hit by the storm and collapsed.

Thirty other people were injured during the storm. Gov. Mike Beebe said one of those injured is in critical condition.

Polk County Sheriff Mike Oglesby said the tornado seemed to pop out of nowhere.

Oglesby said search-and-rescue teams had combed through the city's downtown and a neighborhood just west that sustained the brunt of the storm without finding any other victims. The sheriff said he had no reports of anyone else missing in the city of 5,700 in the Ouachita Mountains.

Weather service forecaster John Robinson said an initial survey of the damage suggests the tornado packed winds of at least 136 mph, making it an EF3 tornado. EF3 tornadoes have winds from 136 to 165 mph.

Basic tornado safety rules call for people, when warned, to go to the lowest floor in a building and put as many walls as possible between themselves and outside.

A warning was posted at 7:24 p.m. Thursday for areas north of Mena and another one went up for the community at 8:01 p.m. -- nine minutes before it hit. The reason for four separate sirens wasn't immediately clear, but Robinson said some communities cannot run their sirens continuously because their motors will burn up.

1 Killed When Tornado Destroyed Masonic Lodge

The twice-monthly meeting of the Mena's chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star had been going on uninterrupted, the 19 people inside only faintly hearing the sirens through the building's cinderblock walls.

Attendee Thurman Allen said they were ready to get out of the building when the twister hit. The storm tore down the Masonic hall's walls, collapsing the roof on one woman, Anna True Cress, killing her.

The winds pulled the shoes off some women who were at the meeting.

Parishoners Find Safety In Basement As Tornado Hits

Other survivors were inside a church in Mena for Easter week services when the tornado sirens went off.

At Saint Agnes Parish, Deacon Larry Hatch said he was giving the homily when they heard the warning.

Hatch said he paused and that's when a parishnor, who was listening to a Civil Defense radio, made sure everyone got to the basement.

"We went down there 10 minutes and windows blew out. We had broken glass," Hatch said.

The roof of the historic church lost some shingles, and some of its original stained glass windows were also damaged.

The church was built in 1922 with rocks found near the site.

Tornado Touches Down In National Forest

Ouachita National Forest officials confirmed Friday that tornadoes that moved through Oklahoma and Arkansas Thursday evening touched down on portions of the Oklahoma Ranger District in eastern LeFlore County, Okla., and the Mena Ranger District in western Polk County, Ark.

Initial assessments of the damage were underway Friday, with the first priority being to safeguard and assist the public and employees as necessary.

Saw crews and dozer crews were dispatched to restore access along high priority roads blocked by downed trees and other debris in the wake of the storms.
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