New exhibit revisits history of disasters in Northeast Arkansas

JACKSONPORT, AR (KAIT) – Communities have begun cleaning up after destructive storms swept across the country earlier this week, and a new exhibit shows it's possible to begin anew.

The Jacksonport State Park unveiled its newest exhibit Saturday, entitled "Earth, Wind, Water, Fire: Elements of Disaster." The exhibit takes people back in time, revisiting some of Jackson County's infamous encounters with nature's fury.

"This is the 15-year anniversary of the 1997 tornado here in Jacksonport," Angela Jackson said, "and the 200th anniversary this year of the New Madrid earthquakes, which happened nearby."

Milestones like these inspired Jackson to curate the new exhibit. She says visitors will hopefully learn how to stay safe during various catastrophes, like tornadoes, fires, earthquakes and floods.

"Historically, it incorporates, especially with fires, the history of the fire department, the history of how people stay safe from floods and such in the past," Jackson said, "and also it's a good opportunity for just people to be informed."

The grand opening Saturday featured several speakers, who shared stories about disasters that have plagued Northeast Arkansas throughout history. Mark Ballard, the Jacksonport State Park superintendent, recounted what he saw March 1, 1997, when a tornado ripped through Jacksonport and almost destroyed the courthouse there.

"I knew exactly what it was at the time. I just wasn't expecting it. It was just an instant thing to be startled by," Ballard said about the moment the tornado touched down. "I looked down the courtyard toward the monument, and I just saw all this debris swirling around and limbs breaking off."

A small crowd gathered to hear these personal accounts and view photographs of the destruction. They also enjoyed the interactive exhibit set up on the ground floor of the old courthouse.

Several hands-on activities allow visitors to see the science behind a disaster, like how to create an earthquake or how to make a tornado. Other displays, however, remind people about staying safe if the unthinkable happens again.

"That's probably the absolute main thing because keeping people safe is absolutely a priority," Jackson noted. "And, if they walk away with some more information than they had before about the history of what happened here and how an earthquake work – even if that was a really cool exhibit, and they tell their friends about it – all are good things."

The disaster exhibit is free to the public, and runs at Jacksonport State Park until February 2013.

People can visit the exhibit Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, contact Angela Jackson at 870-523-2601.

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