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Small Ark town looks to future

BY SUSAN KIM | BEEBE, AR | February 9, 1999

Edward Hulett hates asking for help. He stands

outside the Assembly of God Church, while his wife is inside explaining their

family's situation at the American Red Cross service center headquartered there.

"It's hard for me to take something from somebody," he says, "but I don't know what

else to do. Look at me. I'm quivering."

Hulett and his wife Danielle weathered the Jan. 21 tornadoes huddled in their bathtub

with their two children, nine months and two-and-a-half. In 20 seconds, the family

lost everything. Hulett, who sells used cars, estimates he lost $45,000 worth of

inventory.

"I had just purchased two Cadillacs, a Lincoln, an Oldsmobile, and a Firebird at an

auction. I lost them all -- and all the paperwork for my business," he said. "We were

way underinsured but we didn't know it."

Hulett borrowed money from his family and quickly rented a house. Rental property

is scarce in this area. "We were the first people to look at (a house). There were 25

people in line behind us. I gave the rental deposit in $100 bills so I'd be sure my

family had a place tostay."

Many of Hulett's neighbors share the same painful story. About 50 homes and

several business were destroyed and two people were killed, one an infant, when a tornado ripped straight through this town of 4,400.

The night the tornado hit, the Rev. Larry Treadwell, pastor at the Beebe Church of Christ, heard two things on the radio: the extent of the

damage and the fact that people in Beebe needed shelter. "When I got to the church that night, there were already about 10 people there. The

power was out, but the emergency lights were on, and later some church members brought generators. About 50 people ended up staying that

first night," he remembers.

The next morning Wal-Mart sent a tractor trailer full of water and food, then the phone began to ring with other donations as word got around.

That word got around even faster when KWIK 99 radio started announcing that the people of Beebe needed help.

The Church of Christ in Cloverdale raised $4,000. Churches in Little Rock sent food, water, and supplies. Someone offered a warehouse in

town for storage. Volunteers descended from neighboring towns. The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief, Inc. sent a tractor trailer full of care

kits for families. In every kit was a copy of the New Testament with a personal note of care from the volunteer who packed the box.

Then someone lent a grill, then the local prison lent a even bigger grill, until volunteers - the captain of a police department from a town 75 miles

away among them - were grilling more than 1,500 burgers per day. Then Tysons and Harvest Foods donated chicken, hot dogs, steaks, and

shrimp. A local family-run dairy donated several more hundred pounds of meat. A 13-year-old boy, on his way back from seeing Pope John

Paul II, stopped by to donate his toys.

Throughout it all, Treadwell has kept a sense of wonder about how disaster befalls a town -- and then help falls into place. "When people come

in they sometimes ask who's in charge. Well, the answer is God."

He has also kept a sense of humor. "Now, the day we had grilled shrimp, that was a real treat. I don't know what these people are going to do

when they have to go back to meat and taters."

In reality, though, Treadwell often has trouble getting people to even take what they need. "One woman came by who had a family of six, and

she took one carry-out tray. I asked her why she didn't take more, and she said 'I don't want to take more than my share.' Well, then she didn't

want to accept a dollar poncho. Finally we sent her off with enough food, some ponchos, and even a pair of jeans for herself, which she held as

if they were the most precious things she'd ever seen."

Like many other disaster response sites, Church of Christ was inundated with clothing donations. "It finally got out of control," said church

Elder Mack Rose. "We got to the point where we said 'no more clothing!' Even now, just maintaining what we've got takes a lot of time."

Once the frenetic emergency relief stage passes, Treadwell plans to help coordinate volunteer teams to rebuild homes. Clean-up is a daunting

challenge. Debris is still piled on the roadsides, standing 20 feet high in many places.

But Entergy has already replaced more than 200 utility poles in and around Beebe. The boil order has been lifted. The North Little Rock Fire

Department donated a truck and other equipment to the Beebe Fire Department, which lost its headquarters and three of its five trucks in the

storm.

The people of Beebe are trying to restore order in their spiritual lives as well. The First Baptist Church is meeting at the First Assembly of God

Church. The Lighthouse Pentecostal Jesus Name Church is meeting at a former Chevrolet building.

And Treadwell still believes the old adage that God will provide. "We've got connections up there," he says with a weary smile.


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