By Airman 1st Class Scott Poe
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
At approximately 8 p.m. April 25, 2011, a tornado ripped through Little Rock Air Force Base.
The tornado traveled across the base with winds of up to 135 miles per hour. The impact of the tornado was catastrophic, damaging more than 100 houses on base, three C-130 cargo planes and many other buildings on the installation. The EF2 tornado ravaged on for five miles, leaving a 1,000-foot wide path of destruction.
The swirling vortex struck base housing first.
“I remember lying in bed, playing on Facebook,” said Portia Martinez, an Army spouse who lived in base housing at the time. “I heard the tornado sirens go off, but I thought it was no big deal. Then my brother-in-law called and told me to take cover. As I was looking for a place to hide, I could hear it; it was just like what people say. It sounded like a train. It was real close and real loud, and I could hear it down the street, so I ran into the bathroom. I could feel the wind from under the door and I was really scared, especially because I was pregnant.”
After the tornado dozed its way through housing, it hit buildings along the flightline.
“I remember looking outside and seeing what looked like a wall cloud; that’s when we went to our shelter-in-place location,” said Tech. Sgt. Wesley Ratts, a 19th Component Maintenance Squadron aircraft hydraulic systems noncommissioned officer in charge. “We hid underneath the tables. Everything got really loud; it was actually like the sound a train makes. There was a screeching loud noise.”
Ratts said the actions taken after the tornado were what ensured the safety of Airmen and base residents.
“It was over really quickly, and then it was quiet,” said Ratts. “Some of the roof had been peeled away, so it was raining inside. We got our flashlights outof our shelter-in-place kits and started going around the building making sure everyone was ok and accounted for.”
Ratts was in a hangar along with Staff Sgt. William Diestro, a 19th Component Maintenance Squadron aircraft hydraulic systems craftsman.
“Our building was filled with debris from outside,” said Diestro. “There were tiles and insulation all over the place, even a street-crossing sign.”
Diestro said he looked outside and saw a car leaning against the building. “The wind rolled a dumpster across the parking lot and the dumpster tumbled over another car and then hit mine. The dumpster ended up smashed against our building.”
The impact of the tornado left a lasting impression on Ratts.
“It scares my kids a lot knowing I was in the tornado, so now when they hear about a tornado they get pretty upset,” said Ratts. “We take it more seriously now, and we just get the kids whereever we can to keep them safe.”
Diestro and Martinez also said the events of that night cause them to react to things differently than before.
“For a while after the tornado, it would sprinkle, and I would start shaking,” said Diestro. “I would look out the windows and make sure I didn’t see any funnel clouds. I definitely act a lot different now whenever I hear tornado sirens.”
Martinez said she constantly watches the weather channel, even if it’s only raining. In her mind, however, even if there’s no evidence of a tornado or storm, she begins to form emergency plans just in case.
“I panic now when I hear the tornado sirens,” said Martinez. “Even to this day I still freak out and immediately begin to think, ‘Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?’”
The storm system that caused the tornado is the same system that caused chaos throughout other parts of the U.S. A total of 321 people were killed during the tornado outbreak of April 25-28, 2011.
It was a miracle Team Little Rock survived such a catastrophe without any serious injuries or deaths.
Take cover, be smart, use common sense and stay safe during tornado season.
The Giant Voice siren continuously sounds when an imminent threat to the base is detected. Immediately seek shelter and stay there until the siren ceases.
For more information on how to stay safe, make plans or get ideas to create your own disaster supply kit, go to: http://www.ready.gov.
Always be prepared for severe weather by following the Giant Voice on twitter by visiting: http://twitter.com/19AWCommandPost or by texting (without quotes) “Follow 19AWCommandPost” to 40404. Standard text messaging fees apply.
If you have any safety questions or concerns, call the 19th Airlift Wing safety office at (501) 987-3290.