PINE BLUFF -- Torrential rain caused the bottom floor of the municipal building complex to flood, prompting a scramble by employees to save equipment, documents and books from the water.
Three areas received the brunt of the downpour: the Police Department's records division, the Fire Department's truck bay and equipment rooms, and the children's library.
The areas took on between 18 inches and 3 feet of water in the deluge, which lasted just over three hours Monday evening and broke a one-day rainfall record dating back more than 90 years, according to the National Weather Service Office in North Little Rock.
The previous record -- 1.35 inches on July 8 for Pine Bluff -- was set in 1927, said meteorologist Jeff Hood.
The municipal complex sits between East 10th Avenue and East Eighth Avenue, a block west of Main Street near downtown. The sprawling municipal building, built in the 1960s, is home to city offices, including the mayor, city attorney, city clerk, city collector, the fire and police departments, and the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System.
The storm rolled in shortly after 5 p.m., just as Fire Chief Shauwn Howell was preparing to leave work for the day.
He was in the downstairs truck bay to check with the duty crew before going home.
"At first I didn't realize it was raining that hard, but then there was a good clap of thunder and I realized it was coming down pretty good out there," Howell said. "It kept raining and kept raining and never ceased."
After a few minutes, Howell said someone noticed that water was beginning to lap up against the bay doors, as the parking surface of the station is about 3 feet below street level. He said it was decided that the doors should be opened for fear that the water pressing against them would make the doors inoperable.
"When we let the doors up, the water really rushed in," he said. "After about five minutes, it seemed the water was steadily rising. We got as much as we could up off the floor and got the trucks out of the bay."
Howell said firefighters worked steadily removing furniture from the building to higher ground, pulling trucks out to the street, raising some furnishings and putting computer terminals up out of harm's way.
"Everybody pitched in and just did what they had to do without being told," he said. "Otherwise, it could have been a lot worse."
He said several appliances took on water and it will be several days if not a few weeks before all of the damage is assessed.
Police Lt. David De Foor said damage was minimal at the department's records division, which is on the ground floor right next to the Fire Department.
"We call it the records department but it's where we do fingerprints, fill out reports, and where you go pick up a report if you need it," De Foor said, noting that about 8 inches of water got in on that side of the building.
He said most of the equipment that might be damaged by the water was moved off the floor. The flooring had been redone -- vinyl and tile, replacing carpeting -- after flood damage last year, De Foor said.
"They got everything that's electronic up off the floor, so about the only damage we're really going to get is to have to replace the bottom foot of drywall that got wet."
De Foor said the department still has not replaced the doors that were damaged by flooding in November, as the new doors have not yet arrived.
"That's actually kind of handy," he said. "I believe they are going to be replaced next month."
Rick Rhoden, director of the Street Department, said that although the city has been plagued for years by drainage problems, the biggest problem Monday evening was the sheer volume of water that fell in such a short time. Rhoden said a rain gauge at the Street Department office that can measure up to 4 inches had run over.
"When you get that much rainfall in an hour and 15 minutes, there's just no place for the water to go," he said. "We can handle an inch an hour, but whenever you get over 4 inches in an hour and 15 minutes, you've got to expect it. Even out on [the] Martha Mitchell [Expressway], the water was over a foot deep."
Rhoden said that his department will spend the next several weeks watching for sinkholes to form in the streets.
"A lot of times, when you get that much water," he said, "it will create voids under the roadway, so we'll have to watch for any signs that we have a sinkhole forming somewhere."
Hood said the storm that hit Pine Bluff was a typical summertime pop-up, similar to several others around the state Monday, but with one unusual twist.
"What seemed to happen down there was we seemed to have a couple of different converging boundaries," he said. "Rather than the storm developing, raining, and then diminishing, it basically was given continuous moisture and it sat and parked itself in the same spot."
Hood said officially, Pine Bluff received 3.46 inches of rain in just over three hours, with nearly an inch of that total coming in a 15-minute period.
"It was a lot of rain and it would take several hours, if that rain fell uniformly, for there to not be issues, but a lot of it fell in a very intense, fairly short duration, which really got things going as far as flash flooding goes," he said.
State Desk on 07/10/2019
Print Headline: Fast, heavy rainfall floods Pine Bluff complex