Floodwaters still need to recede before officials can determine how damaging two weeks’ worth of flooding was to Arkansas, but leaders said it’s shaping up to be a costly affair.
“All indications are that this is a major catastrophe for Arkansas,” U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Recent rains could delay the fall of water levels still more and send some rivers back up again, a National Weather Service forecaster said.
Pryor, along with Gov. Mike Beebe and state emergency management officials, met Monday with leaders from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the Small Business Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including FEMA administrator R. David Paulison.
Paulison said it’s still too soon to put a dollar amount on the damage caused by rising floodwaters, including the Black and White rivers in northeast and east Arkansas.
“Once the water dies down, we can start seeing what kind of infrastructure’s been damaged, whether its the roads or the sewage system, water system, police station, fire station. And we don’t know that yet,” Paulison said Monday after meeting with officials.
Paulison had planned tours of Pocahontas and Batesville Monday, but a commercial flight delay caused him to cancel the tours.
Still, Paulison – who also visited Arkansas after tornadoes struck Feb. 5 – said his trip to Little Rock was worthwhile.
“It’s important that whoever the administrator of FEMA is does not sit in Washington and make decisions inside the Beltway,” he said. “You have to get out there and see exactly what’s going on.”
Since flooding began two weeks ago in Arkansas, almost half the state has been declared a disaster area. Two people were killed.
As of Monday, many roads remained closed in several counties because of high water. The counties affected included Arkansas, Clay, Crittenden, Independence, Jackson, Mississippi, Monroe, Prairie, White and Woodruff, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department said.
Weather service hydrologist Steve Bays said rain forecast to fall in north Arkansas overnight could delay the White River’s drop – and even send the Black River’s level back up again if rainfall is heavy.
Overnight rainfall totals in the area could range “between 1 and 2 inches,” Bays said.
Based on rain that fell Sunday, forecasters had already predicted moderate flooding to recur in Black Rock, where the Black River was expected to crest Tuesday at 25 feet – the flood stage is 14 feet. Forecasters also predicted moderate flooding in Patterson, where the Cache River was expected to crest at 11 feet on Wednesday. The flood stage there is 8 feet.
Bays said any rise in the level of the Black River was not likely to send water back into homes flooded in late March, but now drying out after the water receded.
The new rain “might push (the Black River at) Pocahontas back up a foot and (at) Black Rock up another foot,” Bays said, but those levels would affect no buildings. He cautioned, however, that forecasts are not certainties, and water levels could rise more if rainfall is extremely heavy.
The outlook over the next few days includes more rain, Bays said.
“We’ll get maybe a break, (with) not quite so much rain for a couple of days,” he said, “but then we’re looking at the potential for another big-rain event Thursday.”
At Des Arc on Monday, the White River was at 30.87 feet – still slightly above flood stage of 30 feet but down from the 33.18-foot level of last Thursday, the weather service said.
The Weather Service reported moderate flooding in the White County town of Georgetown, where the White River was at 25.96 feet Monday – down from 28.61 feet on March 27.
In southeastern Arkansas, a flood warning was issued for Chicot and Desha counties. The weather service said the Mississippi River near Arkansas City was forecast to crest Thursday at 41 feet. Flood stage is 37 feet. Monday, the river was at 39.5 feet, the weather service said.
Heavy rainfall closed some campgrounds and parks run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps said Monday that many facilities near Greers Ferry, Nimrod and Blue Mountain lakes were unusable because of high water. Other recreation areas will open later than planned because of the heavy rainfall, the corps said.
Also Monday, the state Department of Workforce Services said residents in 11 counties affected by flooding could be eligible for disaster-unemployment assistance.
Those counties are: Baxter, Benton, Independence, Jackson, Lawrence, Logan, Madison, Marion, Randolph, Stone and Woodruff. Applicants have until April 30 to file claims. To be eligible, someone must have lost their job because of the flooding or been prevented from going to work because of the flooding, the department said.
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