At 7:24 p.m. on April 9, 2009, a tornado warning was issued for areas north of Mena in Polk County, Arkansas, then at 8:01 p.m. the warning extended into Mena. Nine minutes later, a tornado struck the city and killed three people. Thirty people were injured and 600 homes were either damaged or destroyed. The Polk County Jail was severely damaged to the point that minor offense prisoners were released, with serious offenders taken to jails around the area. The Polk County Courthouse received damage after a radio tower fell over onto part of the building, damaging the roof. The Mena Regional Health System also sustained damage, but continued to treat patients and ran off auxiliary power. The high winds from the tornado threw a bus into a tree at the community college. The roof at the Mena Middle School was significantly damaged, with part of the gymnasium roof ripped off and a portable classroom was destroyed. The damage to the middle school was so severe that it had to be condemned. The tornado also heavily impacted Rich Mountain Community College (now University of Arkansas at Rich Mountain) and destroyed two businesses at the city's industrial park. The tornado that hit Mena was rated EF3 by the National Weather Service in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Communications in and out of Mena was very limited and many were without power. One person interviewed by a national television network said “it looks like a war zone.”
Volunteers from local and surrounding area fire departments, local law enforcement officers, and countless civilians began immediately to look for injured, assess damage, clear streets of downed trees, prepare food for workers, open homes, businesses and churches to shelter the homeless and those without power, and the work continued for months. By the next morning advance teams from faith based organizations and government agencies were in Mena to start what seemed like and insurmountable task. But Mena residents stood side by side, and with the help of many people from all over the United States, accomplished much.
Areas of Mena will never look the same. Tens of thousands of trees were lost. Whole blocks of homes suddenly became vacant lots with only debris as a reminder that once a family mowed the lawn, played baseball, cooked out.
Red Cross, FEMA, Samaritan's Purse, and even media representatives commented about the spirit of volunteerism and of the resolve of the people of Mena. Yes, it was a horrible tragedy, but in many ways brought out the best in a good people.
4-6-19 9:38 a.m. KAWX.ORG