As we close out another tough year, I’d like to praise the 3 million people who call Arkansas home. Arkansans always are the first to arrive, they give all they have, and they don’t leave until the job is done. During this last year, Arkansas has had its share of challenges, and we have faced each one with determination and compassion.
This year, thousands of people have been stepping up as we continue to navigate the pandemic: first responders, health care professionals, educators, business owners, and volunteers who sewed masks and distributed them out of their homes.
And then in February, we had one of the snowiest months in our history. The entire population of Pea Ridge lost natural gas. Gurdon’s twenty-one inches of snow was the most in the state, and in Little Rock, the fifteen inches tied a 103-year-old record. Just as you would expect, Arkansans complied with the requests from utility companies to reduce consumption of natural gas and electricity. Crews spent a week away from home, working in the cold to clear roads. Power company linemen tromped through snowy woods and climbed ice-covered poles to restore electricity. Police officers rescued drivers and worked dozens of accidents on slick roads.
And then came the tornadoes this last month. Three weeks ago, I visited communities where tornadoes had destroyed homes, businesses, and a nursing home. In Monette, the nursing home staff stood between windows and their residents. Some used mattresses to protect them. In Trumann, volunteers ran out of room for storing donations.
As I toured the towns, we addressed practical matters to ensure they had food, water, and a place to shelter. But mostly I listened. They’ve lost homes. They’ve lost memories. They expressed heartache, and it was important for me to hear their story. There’s heartache today. There’s going to be heartache a month from now, but they will rebuild.
Before Christmas, the president had approved my request for a federal disaster declaration in the counties where the tornadoes struck, and I am grateful for his quick response and for the financial assistance this will mean for the individual homeowners who lost so much.
In every crisis our state has endured, Arkansans have set aside their convenience and personal comfort to help. The disasters that strike our state don’t define us. We have defined ourselves as compassionate and generous in the midst of challenge.