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Little Rock to begin direct aid payments for tornado victims

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. speaks with reporters in his bi-weekly tornado recovery briefing at City Hall on Friday.
Daniel Breen
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. speaks with reporters in his bi-weekly tornado recovery briefing at City Hall on Friday.

Little Rock’s mayor says the city will soon begin the process of distributing funds directly to individuals affected by the March 31 tornado.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. says the Little Rock Cares Emergency Relief Fund has netted approximately $509,780 in donations. $200,000 of that, he says, will go to organizations directly serving tornado victims, while the remainder will go directly to affected residents.

Speaking with reporters at City Hall Friday, Scott thanked donors and reassured residents still needing assistance.

“We know the reason why individuals directed their dollars here is because they trust their city government, and so they want to ensure those dollars get directly to impacted residents as well as recovery efforts,” Scott said.

Scott says organizations receiving the $200,000 in donor funds include several local churches and nonprofits which provided food, shelter and other resources to tornado victims. $40,000 will go to Immanuel Baptist Church, which lent one of its facilities for use as the city’s Family Assistance Center in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

“These individual organizations will have to sign a memorandum of understanding to ensure that these dollars go directly toward tornado recovery efforts,” Scott said. “Not to administrative expenses, directly toward tornado recovery efforts and for those victims.”

Goodwill Industries, the American Red Cross, United Way and Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief will each receive $25,000 from the fund, while Calvary Baptist Church, Samaritan’s Purse and local nonprofit The Van will each get $20,000.

The rest of the donations, about $300,000, will go directly to tornado victims, with a yet-to-be-determined third party responsible for distributing the funds. More details will be forthcoming, according to Scott.

Crews continue working to clear debris from affected neighborhoods, with the process estimated to take another 60 to 90 days. Once initial cleanup efforts are over, Scott says the city will move on to addressing housing issues.

“We have to figure out how [to] lay the infrastructure that those residents who choose to want to come back and build back, that it can be just as affordable as it was when they were there,” Scott said, adding more details on housing plans will be released in the next few weeks.

Little Rock Fire Department Assistant Chief Phillip Durham spoke briefly in Friday’s news conference, saying a west Little Rock fire station that was heavily damaged in the tornado will soon be demolished. He said firefighters assigned to Fire Station No. 9 have been transferred elsewhere in the city, and that the department will rebuild on the station’s current site on North Shackleford Road.

Mayor Scott estimates it could take as many as two years for the city to fully recover from the EF-3 tornado, which is estimated to have destroyed as many as 100 buildings mainly in the western part of the city. Storms across Arkansas on March 31 killed five, and affected about 3,000 buildings in Little Rock. Cleanup is estimated to cost the city as much as $10 million.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.