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Texas Group Bringing Hope & Help To Tornado Damaged Towns

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jason Allen
Jason came to North Texas after working as a reporter for four y...
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MAYFLOWER, Ark. (CBSDFW.COM) – Smoke columns rose over Vilonia, Arkansas Tuesday as thousands of volunteers started burning cleared debris from tornado damaged neighborhoods. Among them were seven members of a McKinney group, surveying the damage for officials and using heavy equipment to salvage items for businesses.

Minuteman Disaster Response used an unmanned aerial vehicle to document the tornado’s path through the town. It was the first time the group had used a drone during disaster response. Matt Payne said the tool caught the attention of incident command, as a way to document the extent of the damage, before teams started clearing away debris

“We’ve been instructed by the city engineer to take some video of the ‘before,’” said Paul Pogue, who was flying the four-rotor machine. “Before the massive cleanup and before insurance companies come in to just document what they have.”

Formed after the Joplin, Mississippi tornado in 2011, the group came in with a shipping crate converted into a bunkhouse, a full command center, and heavy equipment.

They were a blessing to the Fowlkes family at Vilonia Realty, where Jackie Fowlkes said her husband was overwhelmed until the group showed up. Their building was just broken lumber and sheet rock. Using a bobcat the team was able to dig out file cabinets, and computers, giving the business a chance to recover.

The group usually focuses on assisting first responders with immediate response to a disaster. There was so much to do in Vilonia though; they were jumping in anywhere they could.

“We’re here for the easy part, said Brian Ballard. “We’re here for the short term. The long term cleanup and recovery for these people is just daunting.”

Volunteers in a nearby subdivision said it only looked slightly different from the initial damage caused two days ago. Nearly every property in the 50-home neighborhood had a team of people there though, sorting through debris, if there was any. At least a couple home appeared to be swept right off their foundations.

Scott Berrier had three people at his house, looking for things for his two teenage boys. Any small item they could find, he said, would be a small victory for his kids. The home was damaged three years ago in a tornado. They begged him to leave this time, and came back to find the house gone.

“Life goes on,” he said. “I mean, we’re alive, so, everything else can be replaced.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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