Tuesday, May 03, 2011

TOP STORY >> Huge rain pummels area, then moves on

Leader staff writer

“It’s not going to take much to make us an island,” Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said late Monday from a command post inside city hall where the police chief, fire chief and other department heads were monitoring rain levels and flood levels.

“Hwy. 67/167 to the south is flooded and closed off, and part of the highway from Jacksonville to Cabot is also closed. We’ve got a number of streets underwater and two subdivisions already isolated,” the mayor explained.

“Even when the sun comes out, the waters will still be rising. We are getting backflow from Lonoke County with all their rains, plus what is coming downstream through us,” he said.

The mayor added, “This is the second time in 18 months that we have surpassed the 100-year flood levels. We are looking at maps with 500-year flood levels marked. There will be homes and areas that have never flooded before that will,” Fletcher said.

“We’ve been up and monitoring things since that vicious thunderstorm moved in Saturday night,” he said. The city turned the community center into an emergency shelter and had up to 30 people in there Sunday. Early Monday, the number dropped as the people sought out friends and relatives for help and support, but others started coming in late Monday as voluntary evacuations increased.

For the first two days of May—Sunday and Monday—the Jacksonville area received about four inches of rain, the average total for the entire month of nearly nine inches. Other Pulaski County areas received as much as ten inches of rain over the weekend.

Battalion Fire Chief Eddie Hill said the department had been on dozens of rescue calls. Luckily through Tuesday there had been no major injuries. “We were pretty active Sunday and early Monday, but as the rain eased, so did our calls.”

The fire department did have to help with some evacuations at Eastview Apartments off Redmond and some homes off James Street and School Drive because of rising waters. Those people were taken to the community shelter where cots where set up. They also had access to blankets, bottled water and other supplies.

Mayor Fletcher commended Col. Michael Minihan, the 19th Airlift Wing commander, and other base officials.

“I called them for assistance at about 4 a.m. Sunday, and they came out with 30 cots, bottled water, other supplies and said whatever we needed they were there. That’s just amazing because they are still working in recovery from last week’s tornado that hit the base and were still willing and able to help us. I can’t thank them enough,” the mayor said.

By late Tuesday afternoon, Jacksonville officials had re-turned the cots loaned from the air base, still leaving cots at the community center provided by the fire department and were working on placing the last two people who were using the community center as a refuge from the flood.

Jim Durham, the city’s director of administration, said roads were opening up north of the city, but Hwy. 67/167 South still remained closed.

“We’ve placed markers out there and can tell it has gone down. We are hoping the southbound lanes will be open in time for the morning rush hour,” he said Tuesday.

Sherwood Police Capt. Grady Russell said a number of roads were closed in Sherwood, and said the greatest danger was actually the southside of the city where all the water was running to. Trammel Road was closed and people were being evacuated from Royal Oaks Mobile Home Park, just off Hwy. 67/167 at the Kiehl exit.

“We got the flooded streets barricaded early and people have been real good about not trying to drive through flooded areas,” Russell said. “We can still get around most everywhere. But our concern is if something happens in a few of the areas blocked off by the high water, but so far no calls.”

In Sherwood, roads that were closed Monday into Tuesday included Jacksonville Cato, off Hwy. 107, Jacksonville Cut-Off in a couple of places, Trammel Road at Wildwood and Oneida, basically cutting off the Indianhead subdivision.

In the Jacksonville area, Hwy. 67/167 from I-440 through Redmond Road was blocked in both directions, the highway going through the city was open, but parts closed again from the air base exit to Cabot; John Harden north of the city was closed and large portions of West Main, Jacksonville Cato and Jacksonville Cut-Off.

The area had 6.58 inches of rain in April, most of it last week. That total is close to 2.5 inches more than the area normally gets in April.

In fact, almost every place in the state was oversaturated for the month, some more than others.

North Little Rock had officially received 7.27 inches of rain in April, almost three inches above its average for the month and Little Rock’s 7.22 inches is about 2.3 inches above average.

The entire month was one wave of severe storms after another with the worst outbreaks for the state hitting April 23-24, killing at least 11.

But the state was battered on April 4, 10-11, 14-15 and 19-21, before last week’s tornadoes.