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Arkansas sheriff's office sends rescue team, Little Rock company dispatches buses to Texas

by Emma Pettit | August 28, 2017 at 11:39 a.m. | Updated August 28, 2017 at 1:37 p.m.
Members of the Arkansas National Guard were deployed to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which hit land on Friday, Aug. 25.

An Arkansas business sent buses and a sheriff’s office sent deputies to help rescue Texans along the southern coastline that was crippled by Harvey.

Cary Martin, who owns Little Rock Tours with his wife, Gina, said they got a call Thursday afternoon that the Federal Emergency Management Agency needed buses. Six of their 56-seat motor coaches, each accompanied by a driver, were en route to San Antonio, Texas, by 7 p.m., Martin said.

FEMA’s request was a familiar one. Little Rock Tours has sent a fleet of vehicles to five different hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Martin said.

Martin said he’s getting updates from his six drivers — five men and one woman. They are stationed primarily in Rockport, Texas, a storm-battered town of about 10,000. Among the employees are a few hurricane-rescue veterans but also some newbies, Martin said. He gave the recent hires a rundown on what to expect.

“You have people who are angry, hurt, desperate and need a lot of help,” Martin said.

All motorcades are escorted by police, Martin said. One driver told Martin that as the procession of buses meandered down a narrow road into Rockport, water levels rose behind them. They eventually found their way out of town through a different route, Martin said.

He told his drivers to bring sleeping bags, blankets, ready-to-eat meals and water, among other items. Mostly, they’ve been driving those rescued by helicopter to established safe havens like Austin, Martin said.

In between lengthy treks, the bus drivers catch a little sleep or a shower at the San Antonio site. But if their services are needed, they’re told to get up and drive, Martin said.

“Whatever it takes,” Martin said. “There are lives to be saved.”

Another Arkansas agency also heeded FEMA’s call. The federal agency requested people, so the Sebastian County sheriff’s office is sending a boat team as well as search-and-rescue officials on a four-day deployment to the Houston area, according to a news release.

The sheriff’s office is also collecting donations including bottled water, cereal and protein bars and other ready-to-eat food. Supplies can be dropped off at the Fort Smith location, 800 S. A St.

“Just as other agencies came to our call for help, we, too, will respond and assist the first responders who are overwhelmed with rescue efforts,” Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck said in the statement.

Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

11:30 a.m. UPDATE: Arkansas National Guard leaves for Texas; Harvey to bring rain to state later this week:

A band of Arkansas National Guardsmen left for Texas on Monday morning to offer relief after Harvey caused widespread damage and flooding.

Forecasters, meanwhile, said the storm is expected to weaken significantly and bring rainfall to Arkansas later this week.

About 14 active duty guardsmen from the 61st Civil Support Team left for Houston at 7 a.m. Monday, Maj. Will Phillips said.

The guardsmen were deployed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in the wake of Harvey. The system, now a slow-moving tropical storm, has claimed at least five lives since moving ashore Friday.

Once in Texas, the Arkansas guardsmen will wait a couple days until the water lowers to a safer level, Phillips said. Then, smaller teams of two to four guardsmen will set out for possibly contaminated areas, Phillips said.

[LATEST ON HARVEY: Find all storm updates here]

During torrential rain, fuel stations or chemical storages facilities can flood, and contaminants can seep into soil or a water supply, Phillips said.

The guardsmen are driving in trucks furnished with equipment to collect samples of soil, air and water, Phillips said. One of the rigs is outfitted with a transportable laboratory, he said. They’ve also got inflatable shelters in which guardsmen who don hazardous-materials suits will get hosed down and strip off tainted clothing to prevent cross-contamination.

The unit is expected to be in Texas for a week, Phillips said, adding that the team will stay as long as it's needed.

Both Army and Air Force members make up the team, so that the “best qualities of both branches” are emphasized, he said.

“These guys are the best of what we’ve got,” Phillips said. “They’re the creme de la creme.”

A much weaker version of the Texas tropical storm is forecast to sweep north into Arkansas early Wednesday, said Tabitha Clarke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service of Little Rock.

The system is predicted to move quicker in the Natural State than in Texas and will likely leave by early Saturday, she said. During those days, between a half-inch to 1 inch of total rain is predicted for Northwest Arkansas. Anywhere from 2 to 6 inches could be dumped in the southeast, Clarke said.

Temperatures statewide will hover in the lower 80s on Thursday and drop to right around 80 on Friday, Clarke said. That’s about 5 to 10 degrees below average for late August in Arkansas, she said.

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