Kim Bailey’s car was damaged during the March 31 tornado. (Photo by Wayne Martin)
Kim Bailey of Geyer Springs First Baptist Church shares her harrowing experience during the March 31 tornado in Little Rock. She first shared the story on her Facebook page on April 4.
On March 31 at 2 p.m., I was walking out of Walmart in Maumelle when my phone rang. It was my mom. She said that the tornado sirens were going off at their house in Little Rock and that it looked like the weather was about to get bad. I told her that I would probably just stay in Maumelle and ride out the storm and head to her house later with the week’s worth of groceries that I had just purchased for my parents.
The weather was not bad at all where I was – just a little rain. When I got to my car, I checked on the storm and realized I was ahead of it and could make it to my parents’ house before it hit. By this time, I had begun to think that the better option may be for me to go to their house in case something did happen, and I wouldn’t be able to get to them later.
I pulled out of the parking lot onto Maumelle Boulevard. Everything was fine. I crossed over the river bridge. Everything was fine. I exited at Cantrell Rd. Everything was fine. I drove down Cantrell. Everything was fine. My parents’ street runs into Reservoir Park. In fact, the park is home to me. They still live in the house I grew up in. Reservoir is the park I played in as a child. I have cut through there too many times to count going home. The road through the park is just an extended driveway to us. My mom and I have had myriads of phone conversations that have ended with these words, “Mom, I am in the park.” Those words have always signaled to us hang up, I am home, we will finish this conversation in person in a matter of seconds.
As I was turning into the park, my mom called again. She said that their power had gone off and that they were in the hall. I replied, “Mom, it’s okay. I am in the park.” And with a mutual sigh of relief that I was home, we both hung up. Little did I know at this point that I would not make it through the park as usual that day.
There is a little rise in the road followed by a small curve. As I rounded the curve, I began to see enormous trees being uprooted and tossed like matchsticks across the road. There was nowhere to pull over. I just stopped the car where I was, right there in the road. What was I supposed to do as trees continued to fall like dominoes all around me? Experts will say if you get caught in a storm to get out of your car and get in a ditch, and while that may sound somewhat logical when you are not in a storm, believe me there seems to be no logic in that statement whatsoever when you are in the middle of one and white knuckling the steering wheel.
My God-given, basic instinct for shelter had kicked in, and the car was all I had. How could I get out of it? Then, with every fiber of my being screaming at me that I was a crazy woman for what I was about to do, I got out of the car. I believe with my whole heart the Holy Spirit pried all 10 of my fingers from the wheel and gave me a hearty push out the door. I walked five or six paces across the road. BOOM! The first tree crashed into my car. I turned around. BOOM! The second tree crashed into my car. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Trees kept falling past my car until I could no longer see the road that I had just traveled down.
And what about the ditch? Well, there was no ditch. And I can tell you no magical ditch appears when there isn’t a natural one there. I simply stood on the side of the road as the world, my extended home, exploded and was tossed around like a ragdoll before my very eyes. People have asked what that was like. The best description I can give is it was like watching a scary movie, except when you are watching a movie you can always tell yourself, “This isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t real.” That day, it was real.
What we all know now is that even though I was initially ahead of the storm that had been dotting its way on radar toward Little Rock when it got to Pulaski County the energy it needed to ramp up was present and the storm literally raced across the city. In seconds, things began to calm down a little. I called my mom.
I must hit pause right here right now to say it was nothing short of a miracle that my phone worked, and you will see that it continued to work throughout this whole ordeal. I have heard many more stories of phones not working during this time than I have of working ones, and I believe this was an extra measure of mercy that God lovingly and specifically extended to me. You see, physically, I was unscathed – not even a scratch – but had I not been able to reach my parents and others as you will see via phone, I don’t know what would have happened to me mentally and emotionally. I know that had my phone not worked, God would have taken care of me some other way, but I am so grateful His great mercy extended to some Verizon cell towers and those of the people I needed so desperately to talk to.
My mom answered on the second ring:
“I need you to try to stay calm. My car is gone. I was not in it. I am fine, but I am going to have to try to walk to your house.”
“Honey, did you have an accident?”
“No. Mom, are you and Dad okay? What about the house?”
“We are fine. The house is fine. We are still in the hall, but I will walk around and check.”
Yeah right, y’all are fine! Remember, I am really close to my parents’ house. Given the total devastation that I was witnessing, there was no way I could imagine that their house had not been affected. I told her that I was going to start walking and that I needed her to stay on the line with me. I began climbing over huge tree trunks and under tree trunks through dense debris. I finally made it to a large metal storage building owned by the public works department. It was like an oasis in the desert.
Rubble everywhere as far as the eye could see, but this building stood untouched fully intact. The small parking lot in front did not have a leaf, a twig, or a branch on it. It simply stood there like a beacon of hope and another very visible sign of God’s great protection and provision. The locked door had a tiny little overhang that could serve as my only shelter. But I had to keep going.
Over trees. Under trees. Over trees. Under trees. I couldn’t see the road. There was nothing familiar and no recognizable landmarks. I got totally disoriented, and at one point realized I didn’t know where I was anymore. It was then that I told my mom I had to get back to the public works building and call 911. I knew that if anyone could help me, I had to be in a place where I could tell them where I was. I also realized that if I continued, I risked getting injured, which would only complicate matters. My mom mentioned that we needed to try to conserve my phone battery, so we hung up.
When I arrived back at the building, I called my mom to let her know I had made it. By this time, the tornadic storm was long gone but now your normal, garden variety thunderstorm was bearing down on me. I was literally hugging a metal building with lightning racing in ribbons across the sky. At this point, my mom started to panic. Let’s face it. I wasn’t the calmest I have ever been either. The question she kept asking me over and over was “What are we going to do?” “What are we going to do?” I told her we couldn’t do anything except trust that since God had taken care of me back at the car that He could also not allow me to become a human lightning rod. We hung up so that we could both call 911.
By this time, it sounded like every emergency siren in the world was going off, so I knew things were bad and not just bad where I was. The phone rang several times, and then I heard a lady’s voice: “Little Rock 911. What is your emergency?” I explained to the dispatcher that I was in Reservoir Park. My car had been destroyed. I tried to walk out. I need help. She asked if I was injured. She asked me what color shirt I had on. What color pants I had on. She asked me my location in the park. Then she said, “We will send help, but I need you to do something for me. Whatever you do, do not leave that building. We have had reports of damage in that area. It is extensive. If you leave, I cannot promise you they will find you. And it’s going to be awhile. Please call us back if something changes.” I said, “Yes, ma’am. I understand. Thank you for your help.”
Survival mode for me means continually answering this question: “What is my next wise step?” If you know me at all, you know I am a planner extraordinaire. This was way beyond any hope of my plans getting me through or out of this. So, what was my next wise step? I needed people praying. I texted my pastor, Dave, and simply told him the barebones of my situation and that I needed people to pray. He immediately texted me back and said that Jason (another staff pastor) had just picked him and his wife, Louanne, up at the Kroger on Rodney Parham and asked what they could do to help. Wait a minute! The Kroger on Rodney Parham…why was Jason picking them up?
If you are not from here, let me fill you in on what you may not know and what I didn’t know at the time. That Kroger had taken a direct hit from the storm. Dave and Louanne rode out the storm in the cooler while their vehicle was being demolished in the parking lot. The Kroger on Rodney Parham…why were Dave and Louanne there? They live in Saline County with 52 Kroger stores between their house and that one. I’ve got the perfect answer now to that question but let me hold onto it just a bit longer. We will get back to that.
After his text message, I immediately called him. I asked where they were, he told me, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Not far from my parents’ house. I told him there was nothing he could do to help me. I firmly believed this. My parents’ neighbor’s son had tried to walk in to find me, and at this point he had already turned back. I then said that the greatest thing he could do to help was to go check on my parents, make sure their house was okay, and help my dad get their generator started. He replied that they were on their way.
In a little bit, Dave called to tell me that they were at my parents’ house. They were fine. Their house was untouched (Can you say MIRACLE?!). The generator was up and running. And that they were coming to get me. I was nice to him on the phone when I simply said, “Okay, I am at a metal building,” but you can bet your bottom dollar that I had no hope they would be able to locate me.
In my mind, I was a needle in a haystack – or a demolished forest as the case may be. Sure enough, after some time passed, I heard them yelling my name. I yelled back, and before long they were emerging from the rubble to help me walk out to my parents’ house. Three hours after the nightmare began, I was walking into their living room looking like a hot mess if there ever was one physically unscathed with a heart bursting with gratitude.
Now back to the question: why were Dave and Louanne at the Kroger on Rodney Parham on that particular day, at that particular time? The only answer to that question that really matters is this one: because God ordained for them to be there to help rescue me.
While I am so sorry that my friends had to go through the storm, I am so grateful that God in His abundant grace and sovereignty orchestrated for them to be there. God’s grace is truly amazing, isn’t it?
I know this tale has been a long one, so thanks for sticking with me to the end. But if you don’t remember a single word of this, please lean in closely for the conclusion. If you don’t, you will miss out on the whole purpose of why I wrote this.
This will not be the last storm I experience in life. Hopefully, it will be my last out-in-the-open-with-no-shelter tornadic storm, but there will be other kinds of storms that come my way. I want to have a record of God’s presence, protection, provision, grace, and mercy that I can drive down deep in my heart as a spiritual marker in my life to look back at when my trust is wavering and faith seems elusive. And for you? For you, my friend, I want you to know God is good. He is good all the time. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is mighty to save. He loves you with an incomprehensible, unconditional love.
This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long. This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.