State receives hefty doses of rain, wind

A woman  crosses Capitol Avenue along Broadway as  the  remnants of Hurricane Laura pass through Little Rock on Thursday.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
A woman crosses Capitol Avenue along Broadway as the remnants of Hurricane Laura pass through Little Rock on Thursday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The most powerful hurricane to hit Louisiana in 150 years was downgraded to a tropical storm about the time it got to Arkansas, but Laura still uprooted trees and caused flash flooding as it slogged through the Natural State.

"We don't have any flooding, but I've got trees down all over the county," said Mike Loftin, the county judge in Union County, where El Dorado is.

Tropical Storm Laura will be moving through northeast Arkansas today as it trudges toward the Northeast, according to forecasters.

Laura lashed south Arkansas on Thursday afternoon before moving into central Arkansas last night.

Tens of thousands of Arkansans were without electricity in the wake of the storm.

[INTERACTIVE MAP: Hurricane tracker » arkansasonline.com/828tracker/]

President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Arkansas on Thursday and ordered federal assistance to the state. The action authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to "identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency," according to a news release from the White House.

Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75% federal funding, according to the release.

Laura slammed into the Gulf Coast early Thursday as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 150 mph, said Dylan Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock. By early afternoon, Laura had been downgraded to a tropical storm, which is defined by sustained winds of 39-73 mph.

Laura was the strongest hurricane to hit the Louisiana coast in 150 years, according to The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge. The storm shredded roofs, flooded homes and caused "widespread ruin" in the Lake Charles area, according to The Advocate.

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While the coastal storm surge wasn't as bad as predicted, southwest Louisiana suffered "tremendous damage" from winds and hundreds of thousands of people were without electricity, according to The Advocate. Four deaths from the storm were reported in Louisiana on Thursday, all related to falling trees.

Trees were down in several south Arkansas counties and some structures were damaged, said Melody Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management. She said three homes were damaged in Bradley County and one home was damaged in both Calhoun and Ouachita counties. KARK-TV reported that a tree had fallen and crashed through the roof of a house in Little Rock.

Cooper said it's difficult to get damage reports in real time, and the full extent of the damage won't be known until thorough assessments are done.

The National Weather Service had predicted rainfall totals in south central Arkansas of 3 to 6 inches, with 8 inches possible in some areas. The Arkansas National Guard stationed two high-water teams in Hope and one in Texarkana to support the state police in the event of flooding.

By late Thursday afternoon, heavy rainfall from the storm's outer bands had reached Central Arkansas.

Cooper said a squall passed through North Little Rock producing rainfall at the rate of 12 inches per hour, although it lasted only a few minutes. He said that's twice the rate of rainfall that occurs during a heavy thunderstorm.

He said abut 2 inches of rain had fallen at the National Weather Service station in North Little Rock within an hour.

A tropical storm is a rare occurrence in Central Arkansas, Cooper said.

"This is the first time our office has ever issued a tropical storm watch or warning for any of our counties," he said.

The National Weather Service has had the authority to issue tropical-storm watches and warnings for eight years, Cooper said. If it had had that ability in 2005, it would probably have issued a tropical storm watch or warning for Hurricane Rita, he said.

Cooper said flash flooding from Laura had been reported at some locations in south Arkansas and in Benton. The Saline River at Benton, however, was still several feet below flood stage, he said.

"Usually, when you get rain rates that are really high like this, it rains so hard that the rain doesn't have time to penetrate the ground, so it just runs off," Cooper said.

Little Rock was lashed by the bands of torrential rain that wrap around the eye of the storm, Cooper said. He said the storm was trudging along at 14 mph.

Cooper said the eye of the storm would pass over Jonesboro between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. today.

By early afternoon, the eye of the storm should be entering western Kentucky as it continues a northeasterly path over Virginia and out into the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service.

"The storm's going to continue to weaken as they do when they come inland," Cooper said.

Several flash-flood and tornado warnings were still in effect for Arkansas going into Thursday evening, he said.

Much of Arkansas will be under a flash-flood watch through this evening.

The Weather Service also warned of the possibility of flooding along some south Arkansas rivers.

Two rivers were projected to be at moderate flood stage by Saturday: the Ouachita River at Arkadelphia and the Saline River at Benton. No Arkansas rivers were projected to reach major flood stage over the next few days.

"Flooding may occur in urban and poor-drainage areas," according to the National Weather Service. "Heavy rainfall may also cause flooding of creeks, streams and rivers."

Arkansas Secretary of Energy and Environment Becky Keogh said Thursday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Dallas has offered support during the storm.

In a Pollution Control and Ecology Commission meeting held via teleconference, Keogh said she received a call Wednesday afternoon from EPA Region 6 Administrator Ken McQueen, who extended an offer of assistance on behalf of the federal agency "as needs are identified," she said.

"At this point, we haven't asked for their services, but we expect that they will stand ready as well," Keogh told commission members.

As the state has done in the past during hurricanes, Keogh said Arkansas officials will probably reach out to their counterpart agencies in neighboring states in the days ahead "to help support or assist them, should their needs be greater or continue longer than ours."

However, she acknowledged that residents of her own state are in the path of a significant storm.

Information for this article was contributed by Joseph Flaherty of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.