May 4, 2011 Edition

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Floodwaters rush over a portion of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks, just southeast of Portia. Roads, fields and some structures were flooded during the past week throughout the county.
TD Photo ~ John Bland

Damage assessment
ongoing process in flood

Gretchen Hunt

In most natural disasters, officials know immediately how bad the damage is, but in the case of flooding, assessment is more complicated.

"Water is still over the biggest part of where damage is going to be," County Judge Dale Freeman said.

One thing is sure, though, from north to south and east to west, flooding has caused problems throughout the county.

Rainfall totals for Lawrence County in the past week average eight to 10 inches, with some parts of the county recording 10 to 15 inches. While the county is experiencing a break in the rain, floodwaters could even now go up again before they recede as more water makes its way southward.

Dozens of homes are underwater, mainly in the Clover Bend, Black Rock and Portia areas. Steve Jones, director of the Lawrence County Office of Emergency Management, said an exact total of homes affected is not yet known.

"We just don't know what the damage is yet," he said. "We'll have to wait until the water recedes to know. Some areas are still not accessible."

As of Tuesday afternoon, four stretches of highway were still closed in Lawrence County, including Highway 25 between Black Rock and Powhatan, Highway 117 at Jesup, Highway 228 at Clover Bend and Highway 412, west of Walnut Ridge.

Freeman said miles and miles of county roads are flooded, as well. Rail traffic has been impacted as well, as the BNSF track through the county was closed due to high water. Trains began running again on Tuesday, according to Freeman.

Sheriff Jody Dotson said law enforcement personnel, firefighters and ambulance service personnel have all been trying to help where they can.

"Everybody has been working together," he said. "We have had a few water rescues, but mainly we have helped with directing traffic."

Freeman said paperwork has been completed and filed with FEMA to seek federal disaster status, and a visit by FEMA officials is expected soon.

People with damage should notify the county judge's office. They will be asked to provide their name and address so officials can record the damage.

"I fully expect our county to be declared a federal disaster area," Freeman said. "The state has declared it already."

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