‘Unsung heroes’ in storm aftermath

Two LDS missionaries ran to members' and investigators' houses after a tornado touched down March 1, just blocks away from their apartment in Arkadelphia.

Elder William Wheelwright and Elder Troy Loertscher of the Little Rock Arkansas Mission found two injured investigators they had been teaching and helped medical volunteers get them to an ambulance.They also found Carolyn Bock, a member of the Arkadelphia Branch, buried under debris in her backyard. Her house was destroyed.

"I instructed the medic that there were other people who needed assistance badly – including Sister Bock," related Elder Wheelwright. He said they were trying to get to her, but there were trees everywhere and they couldn't drive up the road."

So with the help of a medical volunteer and five community members, Elder Wheelwright and Elder Loertscher rescued Sister Bock themselves. The Elders gave her a blessing, then "we got her on a door we found from a home . . . and carried her three blocks to an ambulance, over trees and under power lines," Elder Wheelwright related.

Sister Bock was one of at least eight Church members injured, two seriously, as a series of tornadoes hit Arkansas. No Church members were fatally injured in the disaster, which killed 25 and injured more than 200.

Although most of the storms' worst damage occurred within the boundaries of the Little Rock Arkansas Stake – affecting members in Arkadelphia, Benton and Little Rock – tornadoes and floods that day also were blamed for at least 18 deaths in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Mississippi. No Church members were injured in those states. In Ohio and Kentucky, the homes of five members were flooded, as of March 5.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed in Arkansas. Richard Cobb, Little Rock Arkansas Stake president, said that the homes of six members were destroyed and another seven received substantial damage, but probably can be repaired.

"We don't have power here," said Pres. Cobb. "We don't have great communication. The only way we can get to many of the Saints is to walk."

But, added Pres. Cobb, (emphasizing that more than 90 percent of the state was not affected) everyone is willing to help the victims living in the 260-mile tornado path, stretching from southwest Arkansas to its northeast corner.

During the first few days after the disaster, members helped victims box up their salvageable belongings, provided food for service organizations and removed downed trees from roads so vehicles could get into the affected areas.

Within 24 hours of the disaster, Blair Olson, second counselor in the Little Rock Arkansas Stake presidency, logged more than 150 calls, at his home alone, from people wanting to help. One call came from members in Arizona.

"Everyone is saying, `What can I do?' and then they do it," said Pres. Olson.

Tammy Benefield, a 21-year-old college student living in Little Rock and a member of the Little Rock stake, was thrown from her trailer during the tornado. After the storm ended, a man she had never met before found her and carried her more than a mile to an ambulance. Then, without saying a word, he walked away.

"We have all kinds of unsung heroes," Pres. Cobb said. "We don't know who they are – they helped someone and then they went on and helped someone else."

Chris and Debbie Andrus and their four children were not home when the tornado struck. Their house was substantially damaged when a giant tree fell on it. Within 24 hours of the storm, Church members and missionaries gathered to help them move and salvage all the belongings they could.

Daughter Marie worked with her family to clean the house, then sat down and cried. "Her friend

Megan HaygoodT loved her and reassured her," said Pres. Olson.

The two girls, both Beehives in the Arkadelphia Branch, had done all they could at Marie's house. They decided they would feel better if they were helping others. "They went out and found pictures and whatnots" from the ruins of Sister Bock's house.

Elder Wheelwright said the experience gave him a first-hand view of the way the Church works. "Within an hour and a half almost the entire branch was accounted for," he said. "It made you stop and take a look at how precious life really is and the blessing we really do have."