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Tornadoes impact parish communities in NWA

Four counties hit with seven twisters May 26

Published: June 7, 2024   
St. Vincent de Paul parishioners began in the morning on Memorial Day, May 27, to clean up the parish and school grounds in Rogers. (Alesia Schaefer)

ROGERS — Seven tornadoes developed in northwest Arkansas early May 26 with the widest in Arkansas history being recorded in Decatur measuring at 1.8 miles wide. Decatur’s tornado was also the worst with an EF-3 strength of 145-155 mile per hour winds.

Other tornadoes were recorded in Marion, Boone and Baxter counties. The National Weather Service also confirmed the tornado began in Bentonville uprooting trees, twisting power lines and destroying homes as it widened and then crossed I-49 into Rogers until it ended at Beaver Lake.

In Rogers, the category EF-2 was the worst tornado most had ever seen in the area. 

At St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Rogers, Memorial Day, May 27, brought the first glimpse of the devastation.

“I have been the groundskeeper and outdoor maintenance manager for 16 years at the parish, and I have never seen anything like this,” said Brian Necessary as he instructed volunteers in a parish clean-up.

Pastor Msgr. David LeSieur confirmed there was no significant damage to the rectory or school. “The church had slight roof damage and a little leakage,” he said. “We lost a lot of trees, some old, but none fell on our buildings.”

The parish, like most residents and businesses in the Rogers and Bentonville area, lost power. “Power was out from early Sunday morning until Wednesday afternoon (May 29) for the parish and school,” Msgr LeSieur said, “But we did offer all Sunday Masses (May 26).”

In Rogers, city buildings such as the Rogers Public Library, the Rogers Historical Museum and the Adult Wellness Center all sustained damage from the storm and have been closed.

In Bentonville, St. Stephen Parish also had huge trees down around the parish grounds. While the rectory had some damage, the church did not. 

“Some residents had more damage to their property and homes and had to go to hotels,” Msgr. LeSieur continued. 

Power and internet service outages continued well into the week. In more rural areas, residents remain without power. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders requested a federal disaster declaration for the storm damage and mobilized two Arkansas Army National Guardsmen to help distribute water in Rogers.

Melinda Whinnery, administrative assistant for St. Joseph in Tontitown, which oversees Blessed Stanley Rother Church in Decatur, said there was no damage to the Decatur mission. 

“I checked with Father Samy (Madhichettyirudayaraj, pastor of Blessed Stanley Rother Church in Decatur and St. Joseph Church in Tontitown) the day it happened, and he said, ‘No, the church there is just fine,’” Whinnery said. “We have sent (supplies) over to the community just as a whole,” even though the parishioners and church are without damage. 

Catholic organizations, like the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Catholic Charities of Arkansas, are still assessing the best ways to serve the community. 

“We had at least three or four communities that were pretty devastated,” said Phil Zimmerman, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society based at St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home. 

The society is currently processing information and requests from community members.

What tore the community apart also brought them together. On Memorial Day, students from neighboring St. Joseph School in Fayetteville showed up to help with the clean up of the parish grounds. T.J. Barnes, athletic director and head basketball coach, said he called the principal as early as Sunday morning to offer help. The next day, students that mainly meet to compete in sports came to assist their fellow students at St. Vincent de Paul. 

“Fayetteville did not get this kind of damage in the storm,” Barnes said. “We wanted to help in whatever way we could.”


Katie Zakrzewski contributed to this article.

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