After 'God's hand came down,' Arkansas cleans up

From the Associated Press

Smoke rose from burning heaps of wreckage Saturday as residents of rural Arkansas cleaned up what was left of their homes after deadly tornadoes scoured a state that has been plagued by severe weather this year.

All that remained of Shelia Massey's home were a chimney, a bathroom wall and a bathtub that was her storm shelter.

"God's hand came down and held us there while the rest of the house just blew away," said Massey, 54. "That's all there was to it. The Lord held us there."

The storms killed seven people in Arkansas, authorities said Saturday, revising a toll of eight reported the night before. The severe weather also damaged or destroyed about 400 homes, and knocked out electrical and telephone service for thousands of customers in 18 counties.

Altogether, meteorologists said more than 25 tornadoes may have touched down across middle America late Thursday and early Friday, but Arkansas was the hardest hit.

Down U.S. 65 from Massey's house, parishioners at Southside Baptist Church salvaged what was left of their old sanctuary and their new church, still under construction.

Men backed up pickup trucks to the front door of the old church and loaded up boxes filled with red leather hymnals. The storm had collapsed the roof of the their new sanctuary, bending its steel beams like sipping straws.

In the countryside outside Damascus, about 50 miles north of Little Rock, John Rusin, 62, said he and his wife, Marsha, 60, took shelter in a small room along with two dogs after the TV show they were watching was interrupted by forecasters. Winds almost ripped a mattress out of his arms as he held it over his wife, he said.

Only after the storm passed did he realize it had picked up their house and moved it 65 feet off its foundation.

Public officials offered comfort and support, and Gov. Mike Beebe has declared 11 counties disaster areas.

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