April 9, 2008 Edition

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Flood causes damage

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

For the fourth straight week flood advisories continue for Lawrence County. With yet another round of storms predicted by the National Weather Service, the county is in wait-and-see mode. The heaviest rainfall is predicted for Thursday and could bring as much as two to three additional inches of rainfall to already saturated land.

The Black River is still 10 feet above flood level, and Cache River is also flooding areas in Lawrence County.

County Judge Alex Latham said that there are still several miles of roads under water in the county, including nine miles along the Black River and six to seven along the Strawberry River.

"With more rain on the way it could be even longer before we can get into those areas to assess the damage to the roads," Latham said on Tuesday.

Mayor Bud McLaughlin of Black Rock said that Black River was going down on Tuesday and that all the streets in Black Rock were open. He also reported that Highway 25 was open between Black Rock and Powhatan but that it could easily flood again.

"Highway 25 is open but it's barely open. The water is still lapping at the sides of the road," McLaughlin said

FEMA assessing flood damage

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been assessing flood damage in Lawrence County since last week. FEMA spokesman Bill Lehman said that 25 disaster-assistance registrations have been taken in Lawrence County since March 26 and 400 statewide. FEMA has paid $1.1 million dollars in grants to Arkansas residents so far.

"There are 65 homes in the state with damage ranging from minor to a total loss," Lehman said.

"FEMA disaster assistance is for those whose losses are not covered by insurance," he said. FEMA assistance is in the form of grants, which do not have to be repaid. Help is also available from The Small Business Administration in the form of loans.

Residents have 60 days from the time a disaster is declared to apply for help. Assessment teams are working to verify damage. Once a person has registered for assistance an inspector will inspect the premises and make a report. Only primary residences are eligible for assistance.

FEMA is in the process of setting up disaster recovery centers, which will make it easier for residents to apply for assistance. A center is expected to open in the Lawrence and Randolph County area in the next week or two. Those requesting assistance can also call 1-800-621-3362 or log onto FEMA's website at www.fema.gov.

FEMA grants are primarily for housing assistance, but the agency also accepts applications for help with transportation, clothing and medical expenses.

The county has also been declared a disaster area and is now eligible for federal money to help repair roads and bridges throughout the county. Even with the help the cost to the county will be steep.

"We're looking at $200,000 ? $250,000 in damages to our roads and bridges," Judge Latham said. "FEMA will pay only 75 percent of the costs for fixing the damage. The state is responsible for 12.5 percent of the repair costs and the rest of it must come from the county budget.

"We don't have the additional money in our budget. We didn't anticipate weeks of flooding. Fixing the roads is our first priority but the 12.5 percent will have to come from somewhere. Some other projects will have to be put on hold."

Farmers feeling the effects

Farmers have been particularly hard hit by the flood damage. Most of the wheat crop has been destroyed, and there has been very little corn or rice planted so far.

"Flooding has pushed everything behind schedule," said Herb Ginn, agricultural agent with the Lawrence County Extension Office. "Late planting will cause even more problems for farmers. They need to be getting into their fields soon. Corn is already near the planting deadline."

John Andrews, who farms land along the Cache River off Highway 412, said that floodwaters have washed away his field roads and caused extensive damage to precision-leveled farmland.

"If it would quit raining right now it would still be two weeks before I could get into the field," he said.

"We're already behind schedule. You can't wait. If you plant your crops late the yield is drastically reduced."

Production costs have been on the rise for farmers with the cost of diesel and fertilizer leading the way. According to the USDA website farm income nationwide is expected to have a 10-year high in 2008, but expense is also up and expected to exceed the last 10-year average by 34 percent.

"Agriculture is facing the highest input in history. The cost of diesel and fertilizer is at an all time high. Now we're getting hit over the head with this flood. This may not be the best time to be a farmer," Andrews said.

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