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story.lead_photo.caption The logo for Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff is shown on the outside of the building in this December 2020 file photo. (Pine Bluff Commercial / Byron Tate )

Water pressure and heating problems at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, exacerbated by extreme cold, led County Judge Gerald Robinson to issue a verbal disaster declaration for Jefferson County on Thursday night.

That will allow the county to secure resources from federal and state agencies, such as additional water trucks and additional road graders, Robinson said. No finances were exchanged because of the declaration, he said.

"We brought in the water trucks to help with the water pressure and the boiler at the hospital," Robinson said. "UAPB called us and wanted assistance with the heat, so we got some heaters that the military uses. Things were getting pretty dire. We've been moving some of the students to temporary housing, hotel-wise."

Late Friday evening, UAPB issued a statement about the water pressure emergency affecting the campus:

"Thursday evening, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was notified by the City of Pine Bluff and Liberty Utilities that the utility was experiencing an increased demand on its systems which affected water pressure levels on our campus. Unfortunately, this not only created a sanitation problem campus-wide, but it also impacted our heating system for several buildings and two residence halls.

"The water-pressure issue improved significantly on Friday in some of the residence halls. Students living in residence halls that lacked water pressure were moved Friday by the Office of Residential Life to temporary accommodations in Little Rock. Residential life staff members will accompany them and remain with them overnight. Meals will be provided for them during their stay in Little Rock."

Arkansas law allows the "chief executive official of a local government jurisdiction" such as a county judge to call the State Emergency Operations center to enter a verbal disaster declaration, according to guidelines from the state Department of Public Safety. The guidelines recommend that a mayor submit a proclamation to the respective county judge for consideration, with the exception of Little Rock and North Little Rock, since they have two of the 77 Emergency Management jurisdictions. (Arkansas has 75 counties).

Robinson said he and Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington had talked "back-and-forth" about how to best pool resources, adding that the city is using two of the county's road graders. Washington said a water truck was also needed at the Davis West Nursing Home.

"A lot is going on at one time," Robinson said. "The water pressure is low. We're trying to keep JRMC going, so they don't lose water pressure and heat."

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