Saturday, March 22, 2008

TOP STORY > >Floods imperil many areas

Leader senior staff writer

White County was declared a disaster area Friday and the White County Office of Emergency Management has been sending people door-to-door in the Georgetown and Nemo Landing areas, issuing a voluntary evacuation order, according to Tamara Jenkins, coordinator.

She said old timers know what to expect but that newcomers to the area could be trapped in the homes, unaware of likely flooding.

White County is one of 35 counties that Gov. Beebe has declared disaster areas after a three-day storm dropped as much as 12 inches of rain in parts of the state.

No homes or lives are in danger in White County at this time, Jenkins said, but Hwy. 36 East near Barnett Lake where the White River comes up through the fields in flooding is expected to be impassable by late Saturday night.

Jenkins said the river was expected to crest at 24 feet at Georgetown.

“Residents say that’s usually when it floods and becomes impassible,” she said.

Residents, particularly those with medical issues, should relocate west of Georgetown.

“The only road in or out will be flooded,” she said. “It’s going to be like Gilligan’s Island.”

She said residents planning to stay should stock up on bottled water, groceries and medications.

Jenkins said most people in the affected area get their water from wells and that a
boil order could be issued. Most also depend upon septic tanks.

“We have verbally declared ourselves a disaster area,” said County Judge Michael Lincoln. “A huge amount of water is coming down the White River through Batesville. Mountain View’s got it pretty hard.”

Lincoln said 15 or 20 roads already had been flooded or closed, but that no residents had been isolated by the waters.

He said the last major flooding occurred about 10 years ago.

Members of the sheriff’s office, the state police and state Game and Fish Commission are trained for swift-water rescue, if it is needed.

“I don’t anticipate that water will get into people’s homes, he said.

Other cities in the local area dodged the worst of the three-day rainstorm that dropped as much as a foot of rain in some areas of the state. Locally about 2.5 inches of rain fell between Monday afternoon and Wednesday evening—about five inches short of the one-day record of 7.01 inches which fell Nov. 18, 1988.

“We’ve had some flooding,” said Ward Mayor Art Brooke, “but no water in homes.”

He said that water has drained off the streets. “It’s moving good and went out of the city. There was a little flooding on Boone Road.”

He said the city could improve the drainage for the next deluge. “When the bayous or creeks are full, there’s nowhere for the water to go,” he lamented.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said flooding problems were less serious this week than in the past because the city has made improvements to reduce flooding.

“We had a phenomenal a-mount of water,” Williams said on Wednesday.

But unlike in previous downpours, Cabot is bringing flooding under control.

“We’re rerouting water damage, so we’re mitigating flooding,” the mayor said.

In Jacksonville, the Bayou Meto has flooded pushing waters high on both sides of Hwy. 67/167 south of the city, but the water didn’t get high enough to flood over the highway. City officials also said parts of Dupree Park flooded.

In Sherwood, fire department officials said there was some minor street flooding and a few cars stalled trying to cross flooded roads.

In Beebe, several streets were flooded Tuesday night, according to Patrol Sergeant Steve Benton, but the water has receded and all roads are open now. He said he knew of no damage to any homes.

It’s wet enough in Lonoke County to keep the farmers out of the fields for another week or so, according to County Judge Charlie Troutman, but “We haven’t had anything unusual. We haven’t closed a road yet.”

“It don’t take these old roads long to dry out,” he said.

He said Lonoke had no problems compared “to what they got up north.”

Overall, the emergency ma-nagement department estimates the state’s flood damage is in the millions. But disaster officials are waiting for the water to recede to get a better assessment of the damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Beebe said the damage could amount to more than the destruction left by the February tornadoes.

At the National Weather Serv-ice, hydrologist Steve Bays said most of the flooding will end this weekend on the upper reaches of the rivers, while the lower reaches will continue to rise or remain high into the middle of next week.

The 26 counties declared disaster areas Thursday by the governor include Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Clay, Crawford, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hot Spring, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Johnson, Lawrence, Logan, Madison, Marion, Nevada, Newton, Randolph, Scott, Searcy, Sharp, Stone and Washington.

On Friday, the governor added Conway, Craighead, Faulkner, Howard, Pope, Van Buren, White, Woodruff, and Yell counties to the list of state disaster areas due to damage caused by heavy rains and flooding that began Monday.

This brought the total number of declared counties to 35.