PENDLETON -- Residents in Pendleton were trying to get back into their homes to assess damage caused by heavy flooding along the Arkansas River, but most of the Desha County community remained inaccessible Wednesday even as the river receded.
The Arkansas River at Pendleton had dropped into moderate flood stage at 32.85 feet by 5:15 p.m., but a large portion of the community was still under water.
County Judge Richard Tindall said between 80% and 90% of the estimated 100 homes in the area have sustained flood damage, and officials expect that costs to repair the damage will climb into the millions.
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said Wednesday that Hutchinson has requested that Desha County be added to the list of Arkansas counties approved by President Donald Trump to receive federal aid, but the governor's office has not heard back from the Trump administration. Eight counties have been approved: Conway, Crawford, Faulkner, Jefferson, Perry, Pulaski, Sebastian and Yell.
Motel owner Glendon Lambert and restaurant owners Paul and Peggy Hill were busy cleaning mud and debris out of their buildings Wednesday afternoon. They were among the more fortunate in the area. Only a few inches of water found its way into their structures.
"At least we've got good weather for it," Lambert said as he took a break from carrying furniture out of one of the units at the motel. "It's not too hot and not too humid, so it could be worse."
Meteorologist Heather Cross of the National Weather Service in North Little Rock said cooler conditions and low humidity are expected to last only a couple of more days before things warm up again and the chances of rain increase.
"It looks like we should stay dry in that part of the state at least into Saturday, and then we'll see rain chances start to come in Sunday and into next week," Cross said. "As far as temperatures go, it looks like we'll start to warm up into the 90s by Saturday."
Cross said humidity will remain in the 50% to 60% range through Friday before creeping up to 80% or 90% Saturday night as a new storm system approaches the state.
"The favorable conditions are going to start decreasing as we get into the weekend, unfortunately," she said.
Fran and Cleodis Smith and neighbor Ralph Waite stayed behind in two of the seven motel units maintained by Lambert, until the water rose to the point where they had to leave. Waite and the Smiths are now staying in two camper trailers on Lambert's farm..
"They came last Saturday and told us we had to leave, that they were shutting all of the electricity off," Fran Smith said. "We didn't have anyplace to go. Mr. Lambert, out of the goodness of his heart, put us up in his camper trailers."
The Smiths and Waite said help seems to be slow in arriving at Pendleton.
"They said the governor hasn't declared us a disaster, so I don't know if we're going to get any help, but we're going to do the best we can do," Fran Smith said.
Waite said they have visited twice with the American Red Cross.
"We thought we were going to get to visit with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] on a couple of occasions, but that never happened," he said. "We got crossed wires on the time and the place, so we've yet to meet with FEMA."
Fran Smith said she was certain the motel wasn't in danger when the water initially began to rise.
"We were going to try and wait it out," she said. "We were here a couple of years ago when they said it was going to flood, and it just came up to the edge of the building, but this time it came all the way in."
By then, there was no time to do anything but leave, Waite said.
"When we knew for sure it was going to flood, we had to get out pretty quickly," he said. "I barely made it out in my car."
"I didn't make it out in mine," Fran Smith added.
Across the street, at the Triple P Restaurant, Paul and Peggy Hill were trying to clean out their restaurant so they could open again.
"With any luck and the blessing of the Health Department, we'll be back open by Friday," Paul Hill said. "We got about a half-foot of water, and when we walked in here the other day, there was 2 inches of mud on the floor."
A deck that sits below the dining room took on about 4 feet of water.
Paul Hill said there would have been much more damage had it not been for their customers.
"They helped us lift everything up off the floor," he said. "The pool table, the jukebox, even the bar was raised up and put on blocks to keep it out of the water."
Hill said volunteers went in Wednesday morning and helped set everything back on the floor.
"Our customers are great," he said. "We've had a lot of people working to try and help us get opened back up."
Peggy Hill said she and her husband were lucky, even though they lost three mobile homes to the flood and sustained water damage to their business. Her worry, she said, is for some of the other residents of the community, which she described as tight-knit.
"It's been two weeks, and some of these people don't have anything," she said. "We've got people living here on $300 or $400 a month, and they've been having to get motel rooms, pay for meals. They just cannot afford it."
Many residents in the community are elderly and aren't physically up to the task of rebuilding, Peggy Hill said.
"These are their homes," she said. "This is where they live. They don't have anywhere else. I know there are volunteers offering to help folks out and there are hundreds of folks all up the river who need help, but we're down here in the bottom of nowhere."
Tindall, the county judge, said he received word Tuesday night that Hutchinson had requested that the county be added to the disaster declaration.
"I feel better about it. I really do," Tindall said. "I was told that [the flooding] started upstream and he had to get it in front of FEMA as quickly as he could with more counties to be added on, and that was why we were left to last, because we were last downstream.
"I guess it makes sense, but it sure doesn't make your nerves any better."
A Section on 06/13/2019
Print Headline: Town takes stock as Arkansas River recedes