MAYFLOWER, Ark. (AP) — On the banks of Lake Conway, Michael and Christina Saville had what they regarded as their perfect home, a suburban retreat that attracted an abundance of animals.
They say they will again, too. The Savilles lost their roof during a tornado Sunday night in Arkansas, and their front porch is missing, but they remain focused on what they need to do to rebuild the home they've had for eight years.
"We waited so long for the right home and this was it," Christina Saville said Tuesday, crying at the thought of what she had lost. "Right now, it's not what it was, but it was gorgeous and in time it will be again."
Sunday's storm killed more than a dozen people in Arkansas as it roared through some 80 miles of the state. The severe weather was part of a complex of storms that killed at least 35 across the Plains and South since Sunday.
The sleepy communities of Mayflower and Vilonia, just north of Little Rock, got pummeled — heaping more misery on towns recently beset with misfortune. Four people died in a 2011 twister that hit Vilonia, and last year Mayflower suffered through a pipeline rupture that sent 200,000 gallons of heavy crude through streets and lawns and threatened a popular fishing hole.
Yet despite the din of chain saws and backhoes, a peaceful sense of place abides. "We just like the quiet neighborhood, being able to go out on the lake," Michael Saville said. "It's just real quiet and peaceful. We love the wildlife that visits — turtles, ducks, geese and beavers."
There's no self-pity rife among the towns' residents. Many traded life in a larger city for good schools, a little bit of land and the feeling of knowing who lives next door. Several vowed Tuesday to salvage what they can, haul away the rest and construct something new.
"You walk into a grocery store and they know you," said Debra Hollingshead, who now has an oak tree across the Mayflower house she's lived in for five years. "You don't need a checking account number. They know you by name."
Along stretches of damaged houses in both towns, volunteers with chain saws cleared trees from across homes, driveways and streets. Backhoes and bulldozers cleared lots down to the slabs and utility crews strung power lines. A cellphone tower in Vilonia downed at the height of the storm was already replaced. Insurance companies set up shop out of tents and vans to assist people.
Volunteers seemed to be everywhere, with dozens of people at home sites, helping residents sort through the debris to find family photos and financial documents. Fred Muawad, who lost his popular Daylight Donuts shop in the storm, didn't have insurance and he's not sure if the strip mall where his business was located will be rebuilt. But he knows Vilonia is behind him.
"This community has been great to me — we've been one big family for 11 years," Muawad said. "We've been through good times and bad." But Mayflower resident Theresa Long, 51, said she had been looking for a sign about moving back to North Little Rock to live near her parents — and believes she received one when the storm sheared off three-quarters of her roof.
"I can always come back and do my fishing here any time I want," Long said.
Juozapavicius reported from Mayflower, Ark. Associated Press writers Jim Suhr in St. Louis and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.