Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

TOP STORY >>Rescuers get many stranded to safety

IN SHORT: White County office of Emergency Management and the Searcy Fire Department were among several public safety groups that reacted swiftly as they helped to save lives and property during the recent downpour that saw rivers rise and roads covered by water.

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

As they always do during extended periods of heavy rain, the low-lying areas of White County are flooded.

The swift water rescue team with the Searcy Fire Department was called out Monday morning to help rescue five people who were stranded in a pickup in waist-deep water in the Vinity Bottoms near McRae.

As it turned out, the water was not swift, only rising, and the five were able to make it to high ground with little assistance, said Capt. Lee Reed with the Searcy Fire Department who called the swift water team to action.

Three of the team members were on hand when the call came in at shift change, Reed said, and a fourth was available. The team members train in the swift, cold water of the Little Red River. Their specialty equipment includes a jet ski.

Reed said they were able to leave the city Monday morning only because other firefighters worked overtime to continue to provide fire coverage for Searcy while they were gone.

Operators with the White County Office of Emergency Management (911) have taken eight calls from stranded motorists since the water started to rise. So far no injuries have been reported.

The Little Red River reaches flood stage at 30 feet. Tamara Jenkins, emergency management coordinator, said the river reached 29.2 feet Monday night but then started to recede, so no evacuations are planned. By midday Tuesday, it was down to 27.8 feet.

No cost estimate for damage to county roads was available at press time.

As always, motorists are cautioned to heed warning signs and not drive on roads that are under water.

One rescue worker said Tuesday that there will always be people who ignore the signs and drive onto flooded roads. “I think they take it as a challenge,” he said.

Kevin Mahoney of Beebe, whose family runs a wrecker service, spent Monday pulling cars from ditches and off flooded roads around Beebe and Floyd.

Mahoney said he is wary of fast moving water even when he is driving his wrecker.

“Even a rig as big as mine can become buoyant and get washed off the road,” he said.

These White County Roads were closed Monday, but Jenkins said the list will get shorter as the water recedes: Jones Puttnam, Arthur Kirk, Swinging Bridge, County Line at Highway 5, Webb Hill, Sandy Ford, Hwy. 5 at Bull Creek, Red Hill, Foster Chapel, Smith, Fairview, Crosby, Mitchell, Mt. Pisgah, Richard Lauren, Yarnell, South Booth, Gafford, Gillam Road at Cox, Ballpark at Pruitt, Pete Hall, Old Kensett Road, Jones Island, Hwy. 11 at Liberty Lane, Taylor, Pumping Station, Humes, Babb Road and Worden.