Tuesday, May 03, 2011

TOP STORY >> Areas to seek help after record storm

Leader staff writer

The six-plus inches of rain that started Saturday and continued into Monday closed streets and highways and some schools in The Leader’s coverage area.

On Monday, Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin completed the paperwork to declare his county a disaster in the hope of federal money to pay for an estimated $1 million in damage to roads across the county.

For example, a guard rail on Omni Farm Road near Austin was taken down by the water and on Kerr Station Road between Poppy Lane and Gun Club Road there is now a hole in the pavement big enough to hide a Volkswagen, he said.

There was no part of the county that was not hurt in some way by the fast and heavy rain, he said. But the southern part, where all that water will eventually run, will suffer longer as the water continues to rise and then stands.

Mayor Bill Cypert has asked Cabot residents with flood damage to fill out a form on the city website to help with the disaster declaration. The form can be found near the bottom of the homepage under quick links.

Erwin said he and his crews started to work at about 10:30 p.m. on Saturday barricading roads that the sheriff’s deputies said were under water.

Firefighters from across the county also helped and rescued residents in danger or stranded by the flooding, he said.

Cypert said Monday that he had never seen the water so high and in places where it had never been before. It was up to the railroad tracks at the discharge ditch at the sewer-treatment plant, which was operating during the heavy rain at it 16 million gallon a day capacity.

Water was four-feet deep inside the Asian restaurant just outside Cabot on Hwy. 5 near the intersection with Hwy. 89.

Cypert said he had also received calls from five residents with water in their homes, but the damage was not significant.

Water also covered the freeway between exit 16 and exit 19, something Cypert said he had never seen before.

“I think we had a near-record rain and flood event in Cabot,” he said.

Although the rain was heavy, the flooding wasn’t as bad as he feared it would be and he gives credit for that to state Sen. Eddie Joe William, the former mayor.

“Eddie Joe did a lot of drainage work over the past four years and I think it paid off big time,” Cypert said.

Cabot has a drainage plan calling for improvements that will cost several million dollars. Knowing the city didn’t have the money, Williams got out during heavy rainfall with his crew from public works and watched where the water flowed and where it backed up and then cleaned a lot of ditches and replaced a lot of culverts.

Raquel Espinoza, director of corporate relations and media for Union Pacific Railroad’s southern region, said the trains stopped Sunday on some tracks in the area.

Water was over the tracks in several places to the north and east of Little Rock and in some places the tracks were washed out, so the trains couldn’t run, Espinoza said.

But the heavy rain had been forecast so crews and material were already in place to make repairs. And the trains were moving again on Monday.

In Beebe, a group of residents from the Windwood subdivision are suing the railroad for damage to their homes during flooding late in 2009.

Over the past 20 years, two railroad bridges that let water run off the farmland that is now their subdivision, have been replaced with dirt beds.

Mayor Mike Robertson told the residents during a meeting at the end of December 2009 that water from the western part of Beebe and as far away as Ward and El Paso flows into their neighborhood causing the flooding. Construction all around the subdivision has changed the flow of water and takes up the ground where water was once absorbed, he said.

On Sunday and Monday, the rising water flowed into about 20 houses on Tori Lane, Birchwood and April Cove.

It wasn’t as bad as the Christmas Eve flood of 2009 but it was worse than the one at Halloween of the same year, said Milton McCullar, head of Beebe’s Street Department.

In Ward, city employees and volunteers waded through waist-deep water like they did in 2009 to rescue dogs that were trapped at the animal shelter. But this time, the dogs as well as three cats were housed temporarily in the city’s new animal shelter which sits on a man-made hill near the highway.

In Austin, Police Chief John Staley said Old Austin Road was closed and reopened more than once as the water came up and went down. And although many yards flooded, no one reported water inside houses.