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Area law enforcement helping tornado victims


Pine Bluff-area law enforcement officials are lending helping hands to areas of the state affected by Sunday night’s tornadoes that left at least 15 people dead in the Vilonia and Mayflower areas.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office sent its mobile command post and two deputies to Vilonia on Sunday night and Major Lafayette Woods Jr. said Monday that two additional deputies were en route.

“We will bring two of those deputies back Tuesday and send two more up there and that will continue for as long as they’re needed,” Woods said.

Pine Bluff Police Department Lt. David Price said Monday that four officers were sent to the Mayflower area Sunday night and the department’s SWAT Team was mobilized Monday to go to the same area.

“Our officers are there to do whatever the people in charge need them to do,” Price said.

Arkansas State Police Troop E, which is based in Jefferson County, had not sent any troopers to the affected areas by Monday afternoon but Lt. David Sims said there are troopers on standby.

“They asked us to have four on standby and that’s what we’ve done,” Sims said Monday. “When they tell us to send them, we will.”

Jefferson County Judge Dutch King said Monday he had been in contact with officials in Faulkner County, where the tornado hit and offered to help in any way he can.

“I told them we would send our road department people and equipment if they needed help with the cleanup,” King said.

Donna Booth Johnson of the Southeast Arkansas chapter of the American Red Cross said two people and a truck were sent to the area from Pine Bluff. Those people were providing meals for survivors and emergency workers, and other volunteers from the area are on standby.

“They opened shelters last night and started feeding last night and that is continuing,” Booth-Johnson said.

Also, she said, the local chapter sent a disaster program manager to help manage the relief efforts.

“When something like this happens, it takes a little time to assess what needs to be done,” she said. “This disaster was a big one and it covered a large area.”

Booth-Johnson said the local office manages the state’s volunteer program and had received calls from people from throughout the state who wanted to help.

“We want to make sure we get those people directed to the right spot,” she said.

Salvation Army Capt. David Leonard of Pine Bluff was in Atlanta on Monday to take care of other business but said he had been on the phone with Salvation Army officials from Little Rock and Conway who are coordinating the agencies’ relief efforts in the area.

“Rather than everybody elbowing for a position, we decided to coordinate our resources and personnel at a central spot,” Leonard said. “We’re on standby ready to relieve those folks when we’re called upon.”

A news release from the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce on Monday said the chamber is working with the Red Cross to collect items for those affected by the tornadoes.

“Items needed are bottled water, blankets and non-perishable snack foods,” the news release said. “You may bring these items to the Pine Bluff Chamber at 510 Main St., by Friday and we will pass them along to the Red Cross for distribution.”

The chamber office will be closed Thursday for Business Expo.

“Please help us in this effort to support our neighbors to the north who have suffered such loss and devastation,” the news release said.

Also Monday, the Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor of Trinity Episcopal Church said Wanda Bateman has agreed to coordinate a local fundraising effort for tornado victims.

In an email, Windsor said checks should be made out to Trinity Episcopal Church with a notation for the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund.

Contact Bateman at 536-6000 or Cindy, the parish administrator, at 534-3830 for more information.

Windsor said in the email the money will go immediately to help disaster victims.