Just seconds after shutting the door of his storm shelter, a tornado ripped apart the house of St. Paul Principal Bruce Dunlap in Scranton Friday evening.
“It was a frightening ordeal,” Dunlap said Monday from St. Paul Schools. Dunlap, his wife, Ona, and a friend who lives with them entered the shelter around 8 p.m. Friday. He said it was 10-15 seconds later that the tornado hit his property.
“I just kind of huddled over them and told them I loved them,” he said.
Dunlap, who also coaches boys basketball at St. Paul, said Ona and the family friend entered the shelter first.
“They were in front of me. I was trying to get my dog out of the house. I got her in the living room but she wouldn’t come any further and I just had to leave her. I got to the door in time just to get it closed, basically,” he said.
The family dog, a Great Pyrenees, was lying unhurt on insulation when the Dunlaps returned to the house on Saturday.
“She was just waiting on us to come get her,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap said his family has used the shelter 8-10 times in the past as a precaution when threatening weather was around Scranton.
The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday that numerous tornadoes touched down in the state Friday night and Saturday morning.
The shelter at the Dunlaps’ house was built in 2008, shortly after they moved into their new home. It is located about 20 feet from the back door of the house.
Dunlap said the above-ground shelter was not damaged at all.
“It moved, it vibrated. It’s got air vents in it, you could hear the wind, kind of felt the wind. But we could definitely hear the rumble and the tin being torn off.”
Dunlap said the tornado lasted maybe 45 seconds to a minute, “But it sure felt like three hours.”
Once the storm passed Scranton, where it destroyed other houses, Dunlap said he, his wife and their friend had to find their way to safety.
“We had to walk about 150 yards through the mud because the trees were down in our driveway. We couldn’t get to it [driveway] so we had to walk through the mud to get where we needed to be in the dark.”
Dunlap noted, “We tried to do cleanup on Saturday to get our necessities and it sleeted on us.”
Dunlap’s house was about 2,700 square feet and had metal siding.
Dunlap was home Friday because of St. Paul’s basketball schedule.
Most high school basketball teams play on Friday nights, but Dunlap said St. Paul rarely does, choosing instead to play on Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Thursday nights during the week.
A basketball game was under way in Clarksville, which is located just across the Arkansas River from Scranton. People there were taken to a storm shelter.
“We’ve watched a lot of storms go just to the west of us, headed that way to hit Clarksville but this one went a little bit further east and got us,” he said. Dunlap and the others are staying with his brother in Clarksville.
“We’ve kind of turned the upstairs into ours, so that’s where we’re going to be until he gets tired of us and kicks us out,” he said with a laugh. “Our plan is to be there until we get rebuilt.”
Dunlap said the storm shelter saved three lives Friday night.
“The house can be rebuilt. You can’t replace lives, but you can replace your house,” he said.
Dunlap said his wife was so impressed by the shelter, she suggested putting one in the master bedroom when their house is rebuilt. Dunlap said he may take photos of his destroyed house to show the man who built the shelter as a testimonial. Dunlap said he knew Friday’s storm was different than ones in the past that were close to Scranton.
“Yes we did. The calm before the storm. It had been raining and been blowing. ... Then it got kind of calm. We were watching the weather on the television and we knew it was kind of tracking through our area. It got calm and my wife said, ‘Bruce, I think we need to hit the storm shelter.’”
“Even as I’m shutting the door I’m still thinking heavy winds. I’ve been in there before because of heavy winds. But it just had a different feel to it, something just made it feel a little different,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap became principal at St. Paul last week when former principal at St. Paul Audra Kimball was named interim superintendent of the Huntsville School District. On top of everything else he went through this past week, Dunlap said he was scheduled to start more graduate classes on-line at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville on Monday.
“My computer’s gone,” he said.
Students at Scranton Schools and members of the small community came out Sunday to help the Dunlaps and others clean up their properties. Students were allowed to miss classes Monday and Tuesday to continue the effort.
“I’ve got great support here,” Dunlap said of St. Paul Schools. “I’ve got great support down there, where my wife works we’ve got great support through them as well.
“Everybody’s been super. I just can’t put into words how much you appreciate everybody. It’s more than what you can comprehend.”
Ona Dunlap works at Forrester-Davis Development Center in Clarksville, where she works with special needs clients.
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Madison County Judge Frank Weaver said Madison 6128 was to be closed on Tuesday near Highway 23 and the War Eagle Bridge.
Part of the county road washed away when the area received at least 5 inches of rain Friday and Saturday.
Weaver said a new culvert was to be installed on Tuesday.
Other bridges and roads in the county also sustained damage.
“Mostly just ends of bridges or ends of culverts and some culverts. Just mostly washing,” Weaver said.