Connect with us

Local News

Wynne rebuilding a year after a deadly EF 3 tornado



Wynne, Arkansas – One year has passed since the hamlet of Wynne was devastated by an EF-3 tornado that claimed four lives on March 31.

“It sounded like a train was just barreling right through my house and someone was just throwing mud up against sheet metal,” said Wynne resident Stephanie Matthews. “It was so loud, but it only lasted for like 10 seconds and then it was over, it was gone.”

Wynne experienced two tornadoes that day, leaving them with unforgettable memories.

“They came on the police scanner and said Cordial Cottage is gone, the Methodist Church is gone, the high school is gone and most everything around it. It took 31 seconds to take away what took 26 years to build,” said Darryl Calvert, Owner of the Cordial Cottage.

A third of the town was destroyed by the catastrophic storms.

“There was so much debris, trying to figure out where to even begin to start on assessing and triaging patients was at first overwhelming because you didn’t even know where to begin,” said Hudson Hallum, Crittenden Co. EMS Director.

Calvert described the devastation as astounding.

“People walking around in a daze,” said Calvert. “No vehicle, no house, no phone, carrying a few clothes they found in their backyard.”

The Wynne High School stood right in its path, causing uncertainty among staff, students, and administrators.

“It was, I mean, you literally had no place to go, you were homeless,” said Dusty Meeks, Wynne High School Principal. “We locked ourselves in a room for a day and basically came up with what school was going to look like for the remainder of the year and then it was, where is our location going to be. It was a whirlwind. You didn’t have a lot of time to think, you just had to go, go, go.”

Emma Kelley, a sophomore, stated that she gave attention to how she would carry on with her schooling.

“Every single day,” said Kelley. “We were sitting in my dad’s truck, me and my friend. She started crying and I started crying. I said, ‘what am I going to do? Where are we going to go?’ and said “If we aren’t going back to this school, where are we going? Just seeing obviously that we didn’t have a school and moving to the tech center, I thought, “okay, I don’t have much of a town right now’, because a lot of this was trees down, leaves everywhere, roads were still closed off, wires on the roads and there were a lot of cell phone towers down.”

Everyone set to work, attempting to salvage what little remained of the school year and moving fast to organize the next one, with the goal of ensuring that a new campus was operational.

“We wanted to offer our students every opportunity that they would have had, from athletics to the arts, to just any general education classes and tech classes,” said Meeks. “We know that we needed to do that and offer as much as we could that we had before. That was the driving force to get into this building.”

In three years, a brand-new high school is expected to be finished.
Despite the setback, Kelley expressed her belief that the institution will equip her with the necessary resources to achieve success.

“I am going to fail my tests and I am not going to do but I have gotten perspective and seen that the other schools around us are doing the same thing,” said Kelley. “Just seeing that I was able to do the things I used to do and adapting to something new.”

The Cordial Cottage, their family company, and 26 years of memories were lost to rubble for Darryl Calvery and his wife, Charlotte. They moved to a warehouse to continue operating. They claim that the reconstruction they are doing now will be bigger and better than the last.

“We are excited but like I told you a while ago, never at age 62 did we think we would start a new beginning,” said the Calverts. “It is like that chapter of our life is closed and we are starting a new chapter. A book actually, because we left so many memories behind but we are making new ones now.”

They intend to reopen their new site by May 1.

“We will be open and ready to go again, and we hope we have the biggest, best Christmas we have ever had,” said Darryl Calvert. “We have ordered a 20 ft. Christmas tree to go right in the center of this room and we plan on having the hallmark, old-fashioned Christmas tree lighting for our customers.”

Leigh According to Anne Lovell, President of Wynne Relief and Recovery, she sprang into action as soon as the tornado made landfall, providing individuals with what they needed.

“What it cost our town and the hurt that is a result of that and every day I see that,” said Lovell. “Every day I drive into town, and I see that. When I went to the areas I just remember thinking, “How did people live?”

According to Lovell, they collaborated with Wynne Church of Christ Minister Fred Strasser to find a long-term solution.

“What if we build houses?” said Strasser. “That began a mission for us, and we began looking for us and we began looking for manpower, material, and money to make this a reality.”

Thanks to the kind contributions of labor, materials, and funds from all over, the first of many houses being built is almost finished.

“We are continuing to partner and try to get those resources in here to be able to offer this,” said Lovell. “Low-income housing was hit meaning there is not even a resource for them to move into because they are not available so being able to put homes up gives an opportunity to keep people in town. We are still losing some families, but this brings people back to the community and keeps our people local.”

Providing hope to Nimol Mean, his spouse, their young boy, and their newborn so that, in spite of everything, they can carry on with the life they established in Wynne.

“It is a very, very nice house,” said Mean. “The feeling I have shown on my face and what I can share is that I am so very happy.”

The people of Wynne are steadfast in their resolve to reconstruct what was destroyed, supporting one another along the way.

“We are a town of resiliency and I think that we are going to be stronger,” said Lovell. “This has opened the door to other things that we need to address in our town and the tornado helped expose that. Now we know where to go to build even more resilience. We are not done. We are not done.”

Calvert stated that they will keep working to rebuild their house.

“We are going to have a better looking and better town even before the tornado struck,” said Calvert. “It is going to take us a while, but I believe we will get there.”

133 Murray Avenue in Wynne is the Cordial Cottage’s new address.

According to Meek, Wynne High School will stay open on its existing site until 2027, when a new high school is expected to be completed.


Continue Reading

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *