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Tornado anniversary brings unity to Arizona town

PHOENIX — Tornadoes are rare in Arizona, but people in one community near Flagstaff remember when they were struck by two twisters on the same day.

In October 2010, while the Phoenix area was getting pelted by hail, two tornadoes touched down in Bellemont, about 10 miles west of Flagstaff. One took out some power poles, but the other ripped through 15 homes as people lay sleeping at 5:30 a.m.

“It took a narrow path,” said Pondersoa District Fire Chief Mark Sahara. “It went up particularly one street that had the heavy damage and some other homes received the debris and stuff from where it really tore homes apart.”

Sahara said it was a miracle that only minor injuries were reported. That tornado also caused a train derailment and damaged 30 recreational vehicles at a camper dealership.

It took about a year for Bellemont to completely recover. All of the homeowners in the middle-class neighborhood had adequate insurance that paid for the repair of their homes. Sahara said the disaster brought residents closer together.

“It was noticeable after the tornado as we did a major cleanup,” he said. “It was all volunteers from the neighborhood helping.”

Emergency operations had to be run from Flagstaff because there were inadequate command facilities for police and fire to handle a disaster in Bellemont. That hasn’t changed.

“We now have an emergency generator at the station, which we didn’t have then,” Sahara said. “But, as far as a facility to put enough people to manage an emergency operations center, we’re still limited space-wise. Our station just isn’t big enough.”

Sahara hopes a new facility can be built once the economy improves.