The Rev. Thomas Lanthrip and his family knew strong thunderstorms were coming to their Lincoln County community of Garrett Bridge Wednesday night.
As the Lanthrips prepared to sit down to dinner in the parsonage of Anderson Chapel Baptist Church, they tuned in to one of the Little Rock television stations to stay abreast of potential severe weather warnings for their area.
In addition, they had signed up to receive weather warnings for their area via a telephone call from the station.
In short, they felt as prepared as they could be as Thomas Lanthrip, his wife Lynn, 8-year-old son Sykes and a 15-year-old South Korean exchange student living with them gathered at the dinner table at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“I had just sat down in my chair when the windows blew out,” Thomas Lanthrip said of the arrival of a storm that he and other residents said seemed to come from out of nowhere. “It was over so quick.”
“We never got a warning about what hit us,” Lynn Lanthrip said. “We were ready to respond to a warning but we never got one.”
As Thomas Lanthrip spoke about the events of the night before in a Thursday afternoon conversation, the evidence that a violent force had visited the area was in plain view.
A large tree that stood alongside the parsonage Wednesday evening was lying alongside and on top of the home Thursday afternoon.
“The storm actually moved my husband’s truck from where it was parked in front of the tree across the driveway and set it down in the front yard facing the other direction,” Lynn Lanthrip said. “There were no drag marks so it was actually lifted up by the wind. The only window left in it is the windshield. All the rest were blown out.”
Thomas Lanthrip said that his truck was still driveable.
“I drove it to where a friend of mine lives to leave it with him for a while,” Lanthrip said.
Thomas Lanthrip said that the female exchange student was shaken up by the ordeal.
“It was quite an experience for her,” Lanthrip said. “Aside from the rogue typhoon, South Korea doesn’t get storms like this.”
The south-facing wall of the church fellowship hall, which is beside the parsonage, was covered in dirt and grass that appeared to have been sandblasted into place. What had been glass double doors at the building entrance were now double door frames devoid of all but the odd remnant shard of glass.
“The glass just blew out of these doors as well as the windows on this side,” Lynn Lanthrip said. “We had reinforced glass in those doors but they still got blown out.”
Thomas and Lynn Lanthrip were extremely thankful that the storm had not come through an hour earlier.
“It would have been awful,” Thomas Lanthrip said. “We had probably 50 people here for Wednesday services just an hour before. We had four families from our congregation directly affected by the storm.”
Lynn Lanthrip said that the church youth were in the fellowship hall for Wednesday night activities 60 minutes before it became filled with broken glass and debris.
Two large sections of the sanctuary roof were gone because of the destructive force of the winds.
“We have extreme water damage on the inside,” Thomas Lanthrip said. “We’re hoping to get as much water out of the carpets as we can to try to save some of it.”
A group of about eight volunteers with the Pine Bluff Harmony Baptist Association were busy sawing the downed tree into movable chunks that were then wrapped in a chain that was in turn hooked to a tractor and dragged to a large debris pile beside Arkansas 54.
Sykes Lanthrip was worried about the fate of a clutch of show chickens that the family kept in a pen behind the parsonage that had been made inaccessible by the entangling branches of the fallen tree.
The Harmony Baptist volunteers were in the process of gingerly moving debris from around the pen at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
David Rosegrant, a retired Arkansas state trooper, said that he had been on site assisting with relief efforts as part of the Harmony Baptist group since midday Thursday.
“Some of the guys got here last night and others earlier this morning,” Rosegrant said. “We placed those blue tarps over the holes in the roof to keep any more rain from getting into the sanctuary. We’re going to put plywood in place over the blown-out windows and doors on the fellowship hall. If we aren’t able to get everything done today that needs to get done, we’ll come back tomorrow.”
Ella Montgomery and her daughter Ann Davidson are neighbors. In fact, the two homes are on the same piece of property down the road from the fire house in Garrett Bridge.
“It is just by the grace of God that we are OK,” Montgomery said of their ordeal. “I had some tall pine trees around my house and what didn’t go down last night lost their tops. My walls are standing, but the roof is gone over the living room and kitchen. The three bedrooms are in pretty good shape, but in the bathroom a wooden shelf was knocked off the wall.”
Montgomery said that she was in the kitchen heating up a cup of coffee in the microwave when the storm hit.
“I was starting around the corner of my table when something laid me down on the floor,” Montgomery said. “I believe it was my guardian angel because right after that one of the trees crashed down through the roof above me, but the table kept me from getting hurt.”
Montgomery said that as soon as the worst of the storm had passed, she made her way out of her house and stumbled through the maze of twisted and fallen trees to her daughter’s home, which suffered only minimal damage.
“I was knocking on her bedroom window because I knew that’s where she usually is that time of night,” Montgomery said.
“Well I didn’t even know what was going on,” Davidson said. “I was in the bedroom at first, but my dogs were acting upset so I decided to take them into the dining room and that’s when the storm hit. After it had passed, I heard a faint knocking and it was my mother so I got her in the house.”
“I’ve got trees that were uprooted with one pointing one direction and another pointing the opposite direction,” Montgomery said. “I don’t believe that would be from straight-line winds.”
The Red Cross was out in force Thursday afternoon attending to the needs of residents and those responding to the disaster, including law enforcement, firefighters and power company personnel.
Red Cross volunteers Jimmy Maples from Star City and Johnny Carey from El Dorado were doing everything they could to lend assistance.
“I drove one of our ERVs (emergency response vehicles) up from El Dorado with enough sandwiches, coffee and chips for 250 people,” Carey said. “We’ve also got some fruit.”
“We go out and distribute the meals to people in the disaster areas as well as stuffed animals for the children,” Maples said. “It is so important for children to have something to hold onto in times like this.”
Red Cross volunteer Paula Barthet is a retired nurse from Star City.
“I’m preparing the food as well as talking to anyone who wants to talk and doing what I can to provide counseling to those grieving or in shock,” Barthet said. “There was one man who came in and he was in such grief. All of his paintings had been destroyed.”
Volunteers from a vast array of fire departments came to help including: Wells Bayou, Southeast Lincoln County, Garnett, Star City, Dumas, Grady, and Selma/Tillar.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, the Arkansas Highway Department, the Lincoln County Road Department, the county judge and the Office of Emergency Management were also among those on scene throughout the day.