Non-stop Flooding in Arkansas Entering 3rd Week

March 31, 2008

Arkansas was spared widespread storms Saturday but remained waterlogged from non-stop flooding that began nearly two weeks ago.

Storms hit isolated areas and residents along the White River in east Arkansas and the Black River in the northeast contended for another day with rising water and muck.

In northwest Arkansas, authorities reported Saturday that they had found a body believed to be that of a man whose pickup truck was found submerged in a creek after heavy rains 10 days ago.

The National Weather Service issued a 24-hour flood watch Saturday morning for Lawrence and Randolph counties, while predicting more rain through at least Monday.

Saturday, Margaret Walker stayed dry at her tobacco shop in Clarendon during a heavy rain. Storms and rising water two weeks ago chased her and her husband Gary from their home in the small community of East Lake. They set up house temporarily at a duck hunting club and have traveled by boat to check on their house.

“I had to go down there yesterday and take the food out of my refrigerator and freezer because a house had floated into a power pole or power lines and it knocked the electricity out,” Walker said. “I just stepped out of the house into the boat.”

Walker said the water was three feet from the front door of her home and many of the houses on the lake were under water.

“Nobody in their right minds would still be down there on the lower end,” she said. “I just pray and say ‘God, please take care of my home.’ But if it happens, it happens – we’ll survive.”

The Monroe County community of Maddox Bay along the White River, where at least one resident was sandbagging his home a few days ago, was under water and only a flock of birds seemed to be watching over the small community on the White River.

The March flooding was the most severe in Arkansas since 1982, and places along the White, Spring, Eleven Point and Black rivers reached 100-year flood stages, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A 100-year flood is defined as having a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

President Bush declared nearly half of Arkansas – 35 counties in north-central and eastern Arkansas – federal disaster areas for immediate emergency assistance. Friday, he designated 19 of those counties eligible for disaster relief for either individual residents or for community public assistance.

Director R. David Paulison of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state emergency officials plan to survey the flood damage by air Monday and possibly stop for a ground tour in Pocahontas, said Grant Tennille, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe. The group will then brief Beebe at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Tennille said.

The Washington County sheriff’s office announced Saturday night that a body believed to be that of Clint Caudle, 48, missing since March 18, was found on a bank of the West Fork of the White River by members of the Washington County Swift Water Tactical Rescue Team.

The body was found about 7 miles downstream from where Caudle’s pickup was found submerged in Campbell Creek, a tributary of the West Fork, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. The body will be sent to the state Crime Lab for positive identification, the release said.

Saturday, federal and state teams continued to assess the damage that began with March 17 storms across the Midwest. As the floodwaters slowly recede, the teams survey properties atop the soaked ground.

“We’re working feverishly,” said Dan Martinez, a spokesman for FEMA, which already had a temporary office set up in Little Rock after Feb. 5 tornadoes. “We’ll continue for as long as the weather allows.”

Martinez said formaldehyde tests on the government-owned mobile homes at Hope, originally intended for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, have been completed and showed “very, very low” levels of the compound, a preservative commonly used in construction materials.

“I can’t disclose the low, high or average levels at this point because it’s just being shared with the governor’s office,” he said. But if the governor decides to make the homes available for Arkansans, “we’re ready to roll.”

FEMA has identified about 25 households affected by the tornadoes that may need the temporary shelter, Martinez said. The number needing shelter because of the ongoing flooding has yet to be determined, he said. Meanwhile, testing continues on the mobile homes.

Martinez said tested mobile homes were being sent to Oregon and may be used in Tennessee as well, where residents also were displaced because of natural disasters.

Most of the thousands of mobile homes and travel trailers purchased by FEMA have sat at Hope unused after similar models housing victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 tested positive for high levels of formaldehyde.

Hurricane victims complained of headaches and nosebleeds after living inside the homes, and lawsuits claim the mobile homes and travel trailers contained dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

There are no federal guidelines when it comes to safe levels. Tennille said Saturday the governor would consult with emergency and health experts as well as those in other states who have used the mobile homes before deciding whether to endorse their use in Arkansas.

On the Net:
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Weather Service Arkansas flood map:

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