From the archives: On April 25, 2011 a tornado ripped through Vilonia, forever changing the landscape of the city and the lives of its residents. The downtown area was "wiped out," leaving all who lived there in shock. The following weeks and months became a time of repair and help from neighboring towns and communities.
Vilonia Tornado Slideshow 1
Vilonia Tornado Slideshow 2
The tornado, which barreled through the town in the evening, killed four people.
Houses and businesses were gone, cars were turned over and the city was in the dark for awhile.
"As bad as it is, we are lucky," Vilonia mayor James Firestone said. "We are very lucky. It could have been a lot worse with a lot of lives lost."
Resident Billy Mitchell, who lives in the downtown area, described the town as "wiped out." His family was in a storm shelter when it hit.
"I have been in that storm cellar many times since 1964," he said. "I have never heard anything like I heard tonight. There was wind and hail. It was scary."
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe toured Vilonia the following morning. He said he was impressed with the scale of the twister, which left a broad trail of destruction through the town of 3,800, some 25 miles north of Little Rock.
Police Chief Brad McNew said the city did have a master plan for a disaster in place, but communications have been a big problem because of the lack of power. The Vilonia Fire Department became a command center for emergency personnel.
The cleanup effort came from around the county and state.
City employees, firefighters, police and citizen volunteers worked side by side "day and night" for days, Firestone said.
"I’ve never seen the like of volunteers and the outpouring of donations," he said.
Some were from the area, he said, while many others came from around the country.
"We will never be able to thank everyone," he said.