UPDATE (13 May 2014):
Jason Rowland owns a tree service in central Arkansas and was among other Mormon volunteers who showed up in western Pulaski County over the weekend to clean up debris from a devastating tornado that hit the region on 27 April 2014. In fact, Rowland has spent the past two Saturdays and two Wednesday evenings helping out his neighbors.
Volunteers gathered on 10 May in the Ferndale and Pinnacle Mountain areas where the tornado first touched down with chainsaws, tractors and tree service equipment. Much of the damage in the rural area was from downed trees. Rowland is known for volunteering his services during disasters, including storms such as Hurricane Katrina and service projects. Local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say cleanup efforts will be ongoing.
UPDATE (6 May 2014):
Hundreds of Mormon Helping Hands volunteers gathered in central Arkansas on Saturday, 3 May 2014, to help clean up debris in communities devastated by recent tornadoes. Storms tore through the area on 27 April, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses in the communities of Vilonia, Mayflower and surrounding towns. Local Church leaders estimate it will take weeks to clear all of the tornado debris in Arkansas
Fifteen people were killed and more than 150 people were injured when the deadly tornadoes hit the southeastern United States, including a 31-year-old Latter-day Saint father who died when he was struck by some wood while shielding his daughter. His wife and two daughters survived. The twister was a category EF4, with winds of at least 180 mph.
About 1,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their neighbors who were wearing yellow Mormon Helping Hands shirts joined the American Red Cross and Team Rubicon, a national organization that coordinated the volunteer efforts, to sort through debris. “We were unprepared for the type of recovery we were going to face,” explained George Wing, a spokesman for the Church’s North Little Rock Stake (similar to a Catholic diocese), who said the tornado hit with such a velocity that there were no walls standing and the structures were reduced to “bits and pieces that needed to be sorted.” Wing said not a single piece of wood was salvageable. “We didn’t see a single 2-by-4 worth saving. This was not your typical chainsaw operation.”
Some of the personal items recovered by volunteers include a girls’ soccer picture, a Mormon missionary badge, a Primary child’s Faith in God award and some food storage cans and buckets. One man was overjoyed to find his wife’s purse and remarked that everything was going to be all right now.
Renee Carr of the new Searcy Stake in central Arkansas said the tornado hit one day after members of the congregation participated in its first “Day of Service” to clean hiking trails around Heber Springs, an annual event organized by the Church worldwide in which local congregations gather to render service in their communities.
Carr said members from local congregations in the Searcy Stake, including women and children, gathered to tie more than 50 quilts and put together office kits for the tornado victims. “Our first Relief Society stake activity got converted into a relief effort at the building, tying quilts and assembling kits,” added Carr, who lost her home to a tornado in 2008. The women were originally planning to collect food for local food pantries and recipes for families for their already scheduled Saturday meeting, but they switched their activity to relief efforts. The office kits contain paper, stamps, envelopes, scissors and other items and can be helpful when families are working with insurance companies and rebuilding their lives.
Some regular Church activities, such as an upcoming father and son campout, have been canceled while local congregations focus on helping their neighbors recover from the disaster.