Storm-cleanup, builder crews still busy

Insurance agent Jay Van Dover works to remove a tree from a client’s driveway Friday on Evergreen Drive in Little Rock.
Insurance agent Jay Van Dover works to remove a tree from a client’s driveway Friday on Evergreen Drive in Little Rock.

— Robert Upson finally got a good quote Friday on how much it will cost to tear out and replace the insulation in his Sherwood home’s crawl space, which flooded during last month’s storms.

He’s one of the many central Arkansans calling contractors, roofers and companies specializing in disaster recovery since tornadoes struck the area April 15 and April 25, and nonstop rain caused flooding in low-lying areas. Some of those companies were so busy immediately after the storms that they had to turn away potential customers.

“We just didn’t have any more equipment, and we didn’t have any more manpower,” said Howard Wiechern, whose Arkansas Restorations Inc. took calls from homeowners across the state and even from flooded hunting clubs near DeWitt. “I had everything out [that] I had at one time.”

Lately, the phone isn’t ringing off the hook, as requests for service have returned to normal levels, said Wiechern and Sharon Goodson, whose Giraffe Tree Service worked seven days a week removing trees from homes after the storms.

“We responded to as many as we could, and we worked pretty much seven days a week for almost a month,” Goodson said. “We’ve slowed down obviously now, and we’re not working weekends and we’re not putting in those insane hours right now. We’re just finishing up the cleanup.”

As of Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had registered 6,124 residents seeking aid. More than $9.6 million in aid has been approved so far, with $1.8 million of that going to Pulaski County residents. The money can be spent on storage costs, medical expenses and home repairs, among other things.

FEMA inspectors have already stopped by Upson’s house on Halfway Street near Indianhead Lake. He learned that damage to his garages didn’t qualify for financial assistance.

“Thank God it didn’t get into the house,” said Upson, who had to make similar repairs after flooding in December 2009.

The crawl-space repairs will cost him and his wife about $1,600. But overall, he estimates that last month’s flooding will cost him $20,000 to $30,000 to repair or replace items, including the two garages that flooded with backwater from the Bayou Meto — the same water that shut down a stretch of U.S. 67/167.

David Hathcock, whose Vilonia home was destroyed by the April 25 tornado, said he lucked out in finding a contractor because he’s good friends with one.

“We’re living in a 42-foot camping trailer right now in our front yard, and they told us we’d be living there for four to six months,” said Hathcock, a Little Rock employee whose co-workers this week donated $1,000 each to him and to another co-worker also trying to rebuild.

Damaged homes in Vilonia are still covered with blue tarp while people figure out their next steps.

Hathcock is waiting on his insurance company to give him an estimate and settle his claim, as is his co-worker, Crystal Hatfield, who lived in the Black Oak Ranch Estates area near Vilonia. The process has been difficult, said Hatfield, who was promoted to accounting specialist the day the tornado struck.

“It’s daunting, and it’s causing trouble at work as far as concentration goes,” she said.

She’s had to replace six tires punctured during the drives back and forth to Vilonia and help her teenage son cope with the loss of all their possessions, on top of problems with her insurance company. The $1,000 check from her co-workers was a welcome relief, she said.

Once her insurance check comes in, Hatfield said, she plans to buy a manufactured home. She has learned that building a small frame house would take significantly longer to get into since construction crews are busy across the state and the South.

But “even before the home, I will get a storm shelter,” she said.

Area cities and counties have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars cleaning up after the storms.

Between labor, equipment and landfill trips, Little Rock has spent $521,926 so far on storm cleanup that started in mid-April. The city is still several weeks behind on debris pickup.

Sherman Smith, Pulaski County’s public works director, said his crews have several months of work ahead of them just from tree debris.

“We estimate we’re going to pick up for another eight months and grinding for another year and a half,” Smith said.

Pulaski County crews have hauled away 3,378 yards of debris so far and spent close to $200,000 on cleanup.

The recent flooding further exposed drainage problems in two Pulaski County cities.

Jacksonville already had plans under design to create more water storage space near Stonewall subdivision, where the railroad is high and the two existing culverts aren’t enough to handle flooding.

The recent rain filled up the creek nearby, which flooded several houses last month, said City Engineer Jay Whisker.

The city plans to create 3 acres of storage space for water runoff. The $130,000 project will take six to eight months to complete, Whisker said. That’s in addition to the $125,000 to $150,000 the city spent on emergency response overtime, cleanup and housing for several residents until FEMA funds arrived.

In Sherwood, several creeks run through the city, carrying water to the Arkansas River, the Bayou Meto and Fourche Creek. A number of homeowners think their neighborhoods flooded because of landfills near the highway, an increase in new homes in recent years or possibly the widening of U.S. 67/167.

“It’s taking away the absorption,” said Upson, who thinks the landfills and new development are behind the flooding.

Two Pine Landfill operators and the state Highway and Transportation Department don’t believe there’s any correlation, but Sherwood officials asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year to determine what’s causing flooding that has been worse than in previous years.

“We’re not pointing fingers at anybody because we really don’t know until these studies are done,” said Tracy Sims, Sherwood’s technical coordinator, who handles flood-plain management and emergency management operations.

Mayor Virginia Hillman said the Corps has not agreed to the study yet, but she hopes it soon will.

“We are a smaller part of a larger problem, and it’s something that the city of Sherwood like any other entity cannot resolve [on its own],” Hillman said. “We really believe this event will bring some much-needed attention to it.”

Arkansas, Pages 7 on 05/23/2011