Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

TOP STORY > >Outlying areas still in danger of floods

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Last week’s heavy rains that led to the flooding that washed a house into the White River at Batesville and destroyed others at Des Arc is still causing problems for some White County residents.

In Georgetown, about 18 miles west of Kensett and a mile upstream from the point where the Little Red River and the White River converge, the residents who didn’t evacuate before Hwy. 36 East was closed Saturday are surrounded by water and have no way out except by boat.

“Most of the people in Georgetown have been there before and they knew to stock up with food before the flooding started,” said Tamara Jenkins, White County Office of Emergency Management director.

Jenkins said the locals are calling it the worst flood since 1982 when the river crested at Georgetown at 29.1 feet. This time the high point was measured at noon Monday at 30.18 feet. By 5 a.m. Tuesday it was down to 29.88 feet.

Although there is no flood water in the town, its 125 residents are without sewer service because the system is full of water from the river. Portable toilets have been brought in.

Tuesday morning, Jenkins was making arrangements to evacuate a couple with young children who had decided they need to stay elsewhere at least until the water has receded enough that the sewer system is operating again.

Fliers from the office of emergency management alerted residents that they would have to be out of Georgetown by noon Saturday if they intended to leave, Jenkins said. Those who decided to leave after the water covered the highway were assisted by the sheriff’s deputies in boats or by their neighbors with boats, she said.

Some stayed but are boating in and out to go to their jobs.

“Those people down there take care of their people,” Jenkins said.

The county’s emergency command center is set up at Georgetown. Three families evacuated from the town are housed at Camp Wildwood in Searcy, which was also used to house evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In Prairie County Monday, Hank Chaney watched a mobile home float down the rain-swollen White River. Chaney, county extension agent with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said other homeowners were watching water creep closer to their homes.

Some of the county’s farmers are upset and worried that if the water doesn’t come down fast enough, they’ll be in trouble on their wheat contract, Chaney said. “The price looks so good, and they were hoping to sell at that price, but if the water doesn’t come off soon enough, they’ll have trouble coming up with the wheat to fulfill their contract obligations.

“Last year, we had a freeze, and now we have flooding,” Chaney said.

Farmers along the Arkansas River, its tributaries and other rivers on the eastern side of the state are waiting nervously for the floodwater covering their wheat to drain away.

“They definitely didn’t need this,” said Dr. Jason Kelley, extension wheat agronomist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “I’m sure the acreage (flooded) numbers are much greater than we envisioned last week when the rain started – tens of thousands of acres I’m sure.”

He said the flooding will be an economic hardship on some farmers who had counted on the money. The flooding will likely reduce yields in some fields and may kill the crop in other fields, depending on how long the water stays on the fields.

Additionally, all the money farmers have invested in their crop could be lost.

Lamar James, Extension Service communications specialist with the UofA Division of Agriculture, contributed to this article.