VILONIA — Joyce Miller was cowering in her bathroom in spring 2011 with her dog, Toby. The roof was being savagely ripped off her house. She thought she was going to die.
"I heard the nails coming up and the whole house shook," she recalled. "You just know you are going to die. This is the end of the road for you."
The tornado that ravaged Vilonia struck Miller’s hillside house shortly before 7 p.m. on April 25. She believes it’s the same cell that hit Mayflower and the Black Oak area within minutes of each other, resulting in the loss of lives.
Miller spent time counting her blessings rather than dwelling on the extensive damage to her house.
"I’m all right," she said. "There’s others that are a lot worse off than me."
For instance, her neighbors. The winds split their doublewide trailer in half. They
have plans to rebuild sometime, she said, but she’s not sure where they are living in the meantime.
"It scattered their cars all over this hill and some landed in the pond," she said of the tornado. "I didn’t get a scratch. Toby was scared to death but he didn’t get hurt either."
She thinks often of the Black Oak residents who lost their lives. "I can hardly drive over there and look," she said.
She reflects on her memories of the area and the things she saw still in disrepair.
Friends, relatives and even some strangers helped rescue Miller and save the majority of her belongings. With downed utility lines down blocking the roadway, her son walked in and they walked out to safety. One man cut a tree and hauled it away, then came back another day and put her mailbox up.
She refers to an oddity that resulted during the tornado. A paper needle cover, in her sewing room, was stuck to a wall but the needles were missing. "I just wonder where those needles went," she pondered.
The damage forced Miller to move out of her house from until October. Her household items were placed in storage. She watched during those months as the ceiling caved in at her house and mold appeared on the sheetrock.
"I basically had to take the house back to the foundation and I didn’t have a roof," Miller said. She credits a neighbor and a roofer for helping her in that endeavor. The roof on, she was able to move back into the house and utilize the back part of the house.
Miller said she knew it would be up to her ultimately to do a lot of the work. She didn’t have the means to pay for having all of it done by others and her pride would keep her from asking for a handout.
She had never really used tools before but that didn’t stop her. A trip to her local hardware store, she came home with a hammer, saw, a nail gun and a miter saw. She also has a friend who grew up with a carpenter father and that she has pitched in to help when she can, Miller said. The two women have put the tools to good use. They have cleaned, painted and done trim work.
"I think we did a good job laying the floor in the bedroom," she added. She has also painted and made custom molding and put up trim hauling it a piece or two at a time in her car.
Miller is determined to move forward. The flooring in her living room is still buckled from the rain and it must be replaced. Lights and doors need to be installed in some areas of the house.
Miller received a check from her insurance company. "Not enough," she said, "but I’m all right."
She was able to purchase a used car to replace the one that was heavily damaged by the tree that ended up in it.
Storm damage is still evident from Miller’s front porch. She makes mention many times that she is grateful for her new roof which, she said, cost her very little thanks to a neighbor and a roofer who provided the services at no cost. At some point, she said, she will be able to replace the damaged soffit. Bricks around it are still missing. She points to a patch of trees in the distance — some were split like toothpicks and others that were uprooted.
Bad things happen to everybody, she said. "You just have to accept it."
Sandy Towles, case supervisor with Vilonia Disaster Recovery Alliance, visited Miller recently. "She’s a remarkable lady," Towles said. "And, she has a lot of pride."
"I’ve done about all I can do," Miller said. "There comes a time when pride has to go. I know I’m at a point where I really need the help."
"I don’t think the neighbor-helping-neighbor attitude has quit, I just think people have gone on with their lives and we still have that five percent that need the help," Towles said.
Towles said the alliance has helped about 65 families and there are 24 actives case.
The alliance plans to organize a volunteer spring clean-up day. To help, call the alliance at 796-2708 or e-mail email@example.com.