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Arkansas Tornado Devastates Community

The tornado that ripped through Dumas over the weekend left the city largely without electricity on Monday as the community worked to cope with the destruction of major employers and the city's center of commerce.

Dozens of people were injured, including two young children who were in critical condition. Dumas schools were closed Monday due to the power outage from Saturday's storm, and an estimated 800 workers had no jobs to which to report.

"Was I scared? I didn't have time to be scared. It happened so fast," said one survivor.

The tornado wrecked the Arkat Feeds pet food plant, where 125 people were employed, and the storm left the Federal Mogul auto supply company with heavy damage. That is in addition to the damage to retail stores. The Fred's dollar store, the Mad Butcher Food Store and Johnson's Warehouse Store Room furniture business were destroyed.

Numerous other businesses were also damaged in the town of 5,300.

Entergy Arkansas said its electric substation for the area was knocked out in the tornado and it was bringing in temporary equipment to help speed the restoration of power. Desha County Sheriff Jim Snyder said Sunday it could take several more days for all customers to get electricity but Entergy spokesman James Thompson said Monday morning everyone able to accept electricity should have it by the end of business on Tuesday.

As of Monday, he said about 2,300 customers in the Dumas area were still without power, Thompson said.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who visited Dumas Sunday in his capacity as acting governor while Gov. Mike Beebe attended a National Governors Association conference, said it looked as though "high explosives" had been set off in some of the homes destroyed by Saturday's tornado, which carried winds up to 207 mph.

Beebe, cut short his trip to Washington, D.C., and prepared to tour the damage later Monday. He was to be accompanied by U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., whose 4th District includes Dumas.

Police went door-to-door Saturday and Sunday, and eventually concluded Sunday that everyone was accounted for. Officials said 40 people were injured in Dumas and surrounding Desha County.

Halter said the county would be declared a disaster area. He estimated damage in the millions of dollars.

On Sunday, Dumas resident Kevin Hill, 42, and his family pulled furniture from the rubble that once was their home while a child played nearby with an Etch-a-Sketch. Hill said he and his family were in Pine Bluff to pick up a saw blade when the storm ripped apart their brick-and-mortar home Saturday.

"Thank God for a five-dollar saw blade or we would have all been inside the house," Hill said.

The storms also polluted the town's drinking water and residents were told to boil it before using it.

The National Weather Service rated the Dumas tornado an F-3. A second tornado that went from near Pendleton to near Tichnor was rated an F-1. The F-3 had winds estimated at between 158 and 207 mph.

The storms in Arkansas were part of a massive system that also caused blizzard conditions in the Midwest. Across the border in Oklahoma, LeFlore County isn't certain whether it was a tornado. But something left its landscape mangled and its residents awed, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

"When we got out here, people were just kind of wandering around just like, 'Wow, what happened?'" said Bob Hawley of Leflore Emergency Management.

At least, 43 homes and 50 mobile homes were destroyed or damaged around Dumas; 25 businesses were leveled and nine had major damage, a state Department of Emergency Management spokesman said.

Snyder said that, of those injured in the county, two were children who suffered critical injuries. The youngsters, ages 5 and 7, were trapped in their mobile home when the storm flipped it over, he said, and it took two hours for rescuers to get them out. They were hospitalized at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, he said.

The sheriff said at least a third of the businesses in Dumas were destroyed in the tornado.

"We feel like we've probably got 800 unemployed today as a result," Snyder said.

Out shaking hands with people picking through the debris, Halter said friends and neighbors were pulling together as Arkansans do. But even strangers displayed compassion, he said.

Returning home Saturday night from Phoenix, Halter's wife was with two people aboard a plane who happened to be from Dumas, he said. When word of the storm spread through the cabin, the passengers took up about $1,300 for the Desha County residents on board.

At least 78 people sought refuge in shelters in town, and shelter workers served meals Sunday and tended to health concerns, said Tina Owens, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Emergency Management.

Police completed checks to account for everyone, including a state police check of the license plates of cars parked in the hardest hit neighborhoods to determine if their owners were OK. Helicopters buzzed the skies for any unnoticed disruptions that needed attention.

"We believe we have accounted for everyone," Snyder said.

About 140 members of the National Guard and 20 state troopers were policing the area or helping with recovery work. State Police Director Steve Dozier said a 6 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfew would be in place again Sunday night to prevent looting.

A tornado warning was issued for Desha County about 13 minutes before the storm hit, though warnings beforehand showed the storm system moving toward Desha County.

The Class 4A state basketball tournament had been scheduled for Dumas this week, but was moved to Bald Knob by the Arkansas Activities Association. The gym at Dumas High School made it through the storm, but officials said the community could not support the tournament because of the widespread damage.

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