Rice mill resumes operation after taking direct hit by tornado

Updated: May. 18, 2020 at 6:27 AM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - The March 28 tornado left a scar on the Jonesboro community, damaging homes and businesses.

One of those businesses, Busch Agricultural Recources, LLC Rice Mill on Highway 49, took a direct hit from the storm.

“We’ve been through a lot lately, but we are making it,” General Manager John Heffernan said.

Even though it was a Saturday, the mill was up and running.

“We were running the mill,” Heffernan said. “We were running shipping."

With the plant running, that meant that there were employees on-site with the storm bearing down.

“We had seven guys in total on sight.”

One of the first things on Heffernan’s mind after the storm hit was the safety of his employees.

“I’m happy to say that all seven of them made it to their tornado safe spot, and were just fine,” Heffernan said. “Had it not been for it being a Saturday, it would have, would have been a lot tougher to get everybody to where they needed to be.”

He said he was watching the Region 8 News coverage as the tornado formed and started moving through the city.

He grabbed his family and took cover.

“You know, we huddled up in the hallway, and no sooner did it pass us, it went directly to the mill and it took a direct hit.”

The storm destroyed five buildings, totaling 16,000 square feet.

“We lost the admin building, the lab, two maintenance structures, and then a tractor shed.”

After the storm, the community stepped up to help clear the debris.

“So we had a lot of contractors come in. Local contractors come in to help us.”

Along with all the employees who work at the mill, who volunteered their time to help.

“All of our guys helped with the clean up as well.”

Now, there are temporary buildings in place.

With all the help, it took the plant a little over two weeks to get back up and operational.

“We were lucky the heart of the mill suffered relatively minimal damage,” Heffernan said.

Some of the minimal damage to the heart of the facility was the roof and exterior damage.

“But the main components were intact, which is what allowed us to get back up and going in those 16 days.”

Heffernan said he couldn’t be happier to see how things are turning out.

“We are really proud of how far we’ve come in such a short time.”

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