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City orders mandatory evacuation as Black River rises in Arkansas; at least 7 dead in storms

by Kenneth Heard | May 2, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
Washington County Road Department personnel survey damage Monday on County Road 859 in Wheeler. Heavy rains caused flooding on area creeks, including Clear Creek.

POCAHONTAS -- City officials on Monday ordered the mandatory evacuation of eastern Pocahontas, including an assisted-living apartment complex and a college, as the Black River continued to rise to an expected record high.

Mayor Kary Story issued the evacuation order, giving people until 8 a.m. today to leave their homes.

"If I had a home there, I'd move everything I've got," Story said Monday in a news conference at City Hall.

Flooding in Arkansas

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The river began rising Sunday after a series of storms dumped 6 to 8 inches of rain across much of northern Arkansas and up to 10 inches in southern Missouri on the weekend. The storms are responsible for at least seven deaths in Arkansas, and authorities continued their search Monday for two more lost in flooding in Northwest Arkansas.

The Black River in Pocahontas, already running high, is expected to crest Friday at 29.5 feet, topping the 28.47-foot mark set April 28, 2011. During that flood six years ago, 4 feet of water entered some homes in the Robel Addition near the town's airport.

Randolph County Judge David Jansen said levees along the river are built to withstand 28 feet of water. He predicts the river will top the levees Wednesday.

"It's coming, and it's coming fast," Jansen said. "Once the water goes over the levee, we've got some serious problems."

Police notified residents early Monday about the evacuation in the southeastern edge of town that has seen levee breaches in 2011 and 2008 that flooded the 150 homes on both occasions.

Elsewhere in the state, workers continued cleaning up and assessing damage farther west as waters began receding.

The National Weather Service confirmed five tornadoes touched down in the state Saturday evening and Sunday. Twisters were reported in Bellefonte in Boone County, Dell in Mississippi County, near Pleasant Grove in Drew County, in Holiday Island in Carroll County and near Natural Dam in Crawford County.

A National Weather Service team also will survey damage in Lonoke and White counties today to determine whether tornadoes formed there, said meteorologist Charles Dalton of the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.

Authorities found the body of a 4-year-old boy Monday in Glade Creek in Madison County near the area where his mother's sport utility vehicle was swept off a low-water bridge and overturned Sunday. Rescue workers continued searching for the boy's 18-month-old sister, who also was swept away in the accident, Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans said.

Hindsville Fire Chief Gene Gardner said the 38-year-old mother tried to carry her children to safety after water swept her vehicle off County Road 7320, but the three were separated by the swift current.

Storms also claimed the lives of a 65-year-old DeWitt woman, a 24-year-old Eureka Springs woman, a 10-year-old girl from Springdale, a 75-year-old Washington County man and Cove Creek-Pearson Fire Chief Doug Deckard, 51, when he was struck by a car on Arkansas 25 as he was inspecting waterlines Saturday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson directed the Arkansas state flag be flown at half-staff in honor of Deckard until his burial.

Saline County deputies also recovered the body of a kayaker on Lake Winona on Monday morning. Several people were in kayaks near the lake's spillway when one man "experienced difficulties," a Saline County sheriff's office news release said. Other kayakers attempted to help him but were unable to because of the high water, according to the release.

Rescue teams also will resume their search for a man who fell from his canoe Wednesday into the Buffalo National River as soon as the river recedes to a safe level.

Hutchinson is expected to tour flooding in Randolph and Sharp counties today.

Photo by Stephen B. Thornton
The Arkansas River swells into the William E. “Bill” Clark Presidential Park Wetlands area, raising the water level over an elevated wooden pedestrian path and into pavilions Monday in Little Rock.
Photo by Ben Goff
Search teams gather at a staging area Monday on U.S. 412 near Hindsville in Madison County. Multiple agencies and volunteers spent the day searching for two children who were lost when their mother’s vehicle was swept off a low-water bridge Saturday. The body of one of the children, a 4-year-old boy, was recovered from Glade Creek.
Photo by Ben Goff
A search team walks through Glade Creek on Monday under U.S. 412 near Hindsville in Madison County. Multiple agencies and volunteers continue to search the area, where a 4-year-old boy and his 18-month-old sister were lost Saturday when their mother’s vehicle was swept off a low-water bridge by floodwaters. The body of the boy was recovered.

The governor has declared a state of emergency for Arkansas, freeing funds for road and other repairs for county officials. As of Monday evening, 18 counties have submitted verbal disaster declarations, said Ross Shultz, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Those counties are Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Clay, Cleburne, Conway, Craighead, Drew, Faulkner, Independence, Jackson, Marion, Montgomery, Newton, Washington, White and Woodruff.

The Department of Emergency Management will continue taking damage reports from emergency managers across the state, Schultz said.

In east Pocahontas, residents loaded flatbed trailers, U-Haul trucks and pickups with furniture, appliances and clothing Monday.

"You take the big stuff and leave the rest," said Lee Kaczmarski, who lives on the corner of Vicki Street and Douglas Drive. "I'm leaving. I don't want to go out by a boat.

"The good Lord gives you a warning, you take it."

Water was already lapping up against Kaczmarski's fenced yard Monday afternoon; Vicki Street at its intersection with Pace Road was already about a foot under water.

Sheriff Gary Tribble said the county has opened shelters at the old county nursing home in northern Pocahontas and at the city's community center on the northeast side of town.

"The prediction is that the water will be in excess of the last two floods," Tribble said. "If the water tops the levees, water could go anywhere."

In 2008, when levees broke in several spots east of Pocahontas, water from the Black River poured through the Robel Addition and south, forcing the closure of U.S. 67.

The sheriff's office is on a bank of the river, and officials moved 12 prisoners Monday to the Craighead County jail in Jonesboro. Tribble said he also released several prisoners held in Pocahontas for misdemeanors. The office also moved to a fire station near the high school on the northern side of Pocahontas.

"In 2011, the water got up to the gravel in the parking lot," Tribble said. "It'll be at least a foot and a half higher this time. We're hopeful it won't get into the building."

Denny Riney strapped down a washing machine on his trailer Monday afternoon and planned to move belongings from his Robel Addition home to storage.

A foot of water entered his home in 2011.

"It's definitely going to get in my house this time," he said. "I thought 39 years ago when I moved here that I wouldn't have to deal with this. Now, it's been two times."

He said once the water recedes and he can return to his home, he will probably either sell it or rent it and move.

One couple on Douglas Drive and Tara Drive who wouldn't give their name said they will stay in their home despite the mandatory evacuation.

The man and his wife stayed in their home in 2011 when water got within 2 inches of entering their home.

"We had fish in our yard last time," he said.

CenterPoint Energy crews spent Monday afternoon shutting off gas service to homes.

"We have a grill," the man said. "I've got a boat. If it gets too bad, we can get out of here."

Information for this article was contributed by Bill Bowden of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 05/02/2017

Print Headline: Tense Pocahontas awaits record-high Black River


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