VILONIA — Driving down 64 Highway through the city of Vilonia, many of the sites associated with the April 25 tornado have been cleaned up.
But blue tarps are visible at many locations, rubble still lies in fields and debris remains piled in several places. At least 19 homes were totally destroyed and hundreds damaged in the Vilonia and Black Oak Ranch areas, according Debbie Martin, safety officer for the Vilonia Fire Department.
"There’s so much need still here," Martin said, Tuesday while driving the area. "In the Black Oak area, there are people living in outbuildings and staying in their vehicles in their driveway. Some of those hit were property owners, with insurance, but there were a lot of renters. There’s also some that hadn’t updated their policies in 20 years."
She fears the numbers of volunteers are dropping off with only a few trickling in and out. Yet, she’s not ready to throw in the towel. She continues to coordinate volunteers, clean-up efforts and donations on behalf of the fire department. However, she’s using her personal vehicle and time to do so.
Martin is currently unemployed. She said she was fired from her paying job, of two years, a week after the tornado.
"I just don’t want these people to be forgotten," she added.
On that note, she pulled in a driveway behind a mobile home with a ribbed out center. Greeted by John and Lillian Caley, she told the couple she just stopped by to check on them while making her rounds. The couple said they hadn’t seen any volunteers in the area in several days.
"But we’ll make it," John Caley said.
They were renting the damaged mobile home, he said. Currently, they are staying in a garage behind using an outside water source and a bathroom inside the piece of mobile home. While some of their personal belongings sustained damage, they rescued most of them.
"We need mattresses," Lillian Caley said.
The mattresses the couple is sleeping on received damage, and there are signs of mold but it is the best they have at the present time. John Caley said they have been handling the situation with "a lot of Febreze."
Lillian Caley was at work when the tornado hit. Friends had come to get John Caley, and they were all in a vehicle headed to Vilonia to ride out the tornado. He feels lucky to be alive. He describes driving in the violent wind and making it to the couple’s house just before the tornado hit. A tree fell on the vehicle, he said, before he could exit. He climbed over the seat to exit the driver’s side.
"I opened the door and my glasses went flying," he said.
Martin continued to drive around the area stopping by the houses of many, listening to each and every need and taking notes. While she made it plain that she couldn’t make any promises, she told one couple she would try to secure them some donated lumber. Some needed help with clearing debris. She told them she would try to send some volunteers to their location as soon as possible. Some needed places to stay. She said she had some calls out trying to find some donated mobile homes and campers.
As long as she can, Martin plans to continue volunteering her services. She promised all that she came in contact with that she would try to keep their stories alive and keep them from "falling through the cracks," on receiving help.
"I just can’t walk away," she said. "It’s just not the way I am. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that I could help, and that I’m not."