Leader Blues

Friday, October 30, 2009

TOP STORY >> Deluge brings rescue efforts

Officer Michael Tippin with the Sherwood Police Department checks out a section of East Lee Street that flooded Thursday night.

Tyrone Lee makes his way to dry land Friday morning after retrieving items from his apartment at New Brittany Apartments on Jacksonville Cut-off in Gravel Ridge. Rescue workers pulled people from cars in the area all day.

High waters spill over South Rockwood Road in Cabot, making driving hazardous and causing vehicles to spray water into traffic.

Leader staff writer

Four area fire departments using boats and other rescue equipment evacuated about a dozen people Friday morning from a trailer park off Tom Box Road in north Pulaski County.

Also, a number of people had to be rescued Friday morning from the roofs of their floating cars at Hwy. 161 and the railroad overpass in Jacksonville and another person was pulled to safety as their car continued to float away on Jacksonville Cutoff near the one-way bridge on Main Street.

The Ward Fire Department ran rescue missions all night as the rain fell, pulling one family from a car that had stalled in four feet of water on Hwy. 319 and Lewisburg Road and saving dogs in the city’s animal control kennels off Hwy. 367.

Ward Police Chief Charlie Martin said firefighters waded in water up to their armpits to get the dogs to safety.

Friday afternoon, the Sherwood Fire Department personnel had to rescue a woman who tried to drive through a flooded Rixey Road. Water was still running high on that road Friday evening.

The latest onslaught of rains to hit the state dropped more than five inches of rain on the area in less than 24 hours, and may have contributed to one traffic death in Cabot.

Tabitha Goode, 31, of 1771 W. Mountain Springs Road in Cabot was killed late Thursday in a three-car accident on Hwy. 5 at Shirley Lane.

Tiffany Chinn, 19, of 42 Hummingbird Lane in Cabot was injured.

According to the State Police report, Goode was traveling south on Hwy. 5 in a 2004 Chevy Cavalier when she crossed the center line and sideswiped a 2006 Honda Accord, turned sideways and was struck by a 2004 Kia Rio driven by Chinn.

The driver of the Accord, Carla Odwyer of Conway, was not injured.

The roads were wet and it was raining at the time of the accident.

Although state Hwy. 67/167 was never officially closed Friday, one man said he left home in Beebe at 8:30 a.m. and it took three hours to reach work in Jacksonville as floodwaters raced across all the highway lanes and rain pelted down throughout the morning.

“There was one lane southbound, one lane northbound open because of the rising water,” said Randy Ort, spokesman for the state Highway and Transportation Department. “The main issue was one lane each way and no frontage roads.”

Both northbound lanes were open by mid afternoon, good news for commuters headed north from the Little Rock area.

Parts of Hwy. 31 were also flooded during the morning rush. Raging floodwaters caused a small bridge section to collapse on Batesville Pike north of Maryland Avenue outside Sherwood.

Jacksonville Public Works Director Jim Oakley agreed with Ort that the morning commute was a mess. But by late afternoon, he said the only roadways still covered with water or blocked were a southbound lane on Hwy. 167 near the northern edge of the city, parts of Redmond Road around Dupree Park and the old West Main bridge.

North Pulaski, Gravel Ridge, Sherwood and Jacksonville fire departments responded with boats and rescue equipment to Tom Box Road about 9 a.m. and stayed on scene for a couple of hours.

Gravel Ridge Fire Chief Andy Traffanstedt said the four fire departments, along with MEMS, responded. “There were about 11 trailers in the area and water was either up to the doors or running into the homes,” he said.

The chief said it wasn’t a life-saving operation, but the people had to get out. “We had four boats out checking all the homes and evacuated 11 people. A number of others said they would stay,” he said.

Traffanstedt said Jacksonville stayed on the scene with its boat and helped First Electric crews turn off electricity to prevent problems.

The trailer park operation wasn’t the only weather-related call for the Gravel Ridge department. “We had about eight vehicle rescues—people in the vehicles and on rooftops, mostly on Jacksonville-Cato Road,” the chief said.

The Ward kennels are adjacent to the city ball field and sewer-treatment plant. Mayor Art Brooke said the fear was that water had gotten into the plant, and he was relieved to learn that it was still dry.

Parts of eight or nine streets inside the city were covered with water and the mayor said firefighters made sure no one drove through them. Morning found them on the freeway between Ward and Austin, where a car had washed off into the ditch.

Beebe was wet, Mayor Mike Robertson said Friday afternoon, but $100,000-plus spent on cleaning ditches over the past two years kept the city drier than some of the surrounding areas.

By late Thursday afternoon, the only real trouble spot was the Windwood subdivision where the water that was creeping into backyards earlier in the day had filled the streets in the back of the subdivision and was inching its way toward the houses.

The houses in the most danger of flooding are in the flood zone, the mayor said.

“It comes from the bottoms and it’s always going to be this way,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”

Flooding that caused problems in the new Southfork subdivision is being corrected with tons of gravel to raise the streets out of the water and ditching to make the water flow away. Robertson said about 200 tons of gravel was hauled into Southfork Friday and that much more will be brought in Monday. The payoff is that residents there were able to get home Friday evening.

Total rainfall for Thursday and Friday in central Arkansas topped 5.3 inches, giving the area 16.58 inches of rain for October, and making October the wettest on record, which go back to 1878.

The previous record was 15.35 inches in October 1984. This October is also the wettest month since January 1937.

For the year, rainfall totals are close to 68.5 inches, making the year — with two months to go yet — the fifth wettest on record.

If central Arkansas gets a little more than seven inches of precipitation between now and the end of December, then 2009 will be the wettest on record, surpassing the old record of 75.54 inches set in 1882.

(Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this article.)