May 3, 2017 Edition

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Heavy rains saturate county,
more flash flooding possible

Megan Heyl
Gretchen Hunt
TD Staff

Heavy rain falling Saturday night on an already wet Lawrence County caused several areas to flood, with additional flooding occurring as water traveled southbound along waterways across the county.

Flooding is expected to continue as the Black River at Pocahontas is anticipated to crest higher than the levee and more rain is forecast for this afternoon and evening.

County Judge John Thomison said he anticipates the Running Water Basin to receive the brunt of the water that comes over the levee.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon he said, "Floodwaters in Lawrence County will be three to four feet higher than they were in 2011. The areas of Coffman, Portia and Clover Bend will be the most affected areas."

Portia Mayor Kelly Duckworth joined Thomison in urging individuals to evacuate if they were in the affected areas in 2011, even if water did not get into their homes then.

The National Weather Service reported that floodwaters will result in potentially life-threatening flooding across portions of Randolph, Lawrence and Clay counties. Residents are urged to follow the instructions of local emergency management and law enforcement officials.

"I'd rather them leave for no reason and be safe," Thomison said. "We've been through floods, but every flood is different."

A temporary shelter has been established at the Walnut Ridge Community Center for those being evacuated due to flooding. Donations of food items that do not have to be cooked, such as snacks and breakfast items, are needed.

The city of Walnut Ridge is also offering assistance to those who need sandbags to protect their personal property.

Mayor Charles Snapp said it began with 500 bags he had left from his duck hunting business and 500 bags from the Office of Emergency Management.

"We've gone through almost all of them," he said. "We will have more bags in the morning."

He noted that Craighead County Judge Ed Hill is providing additional bags, and employees of Peco Foods will be volunteering to help fill them. Additional volunteers are welcome.

The bags are available for any Lawrence County resident or others affected by flooding and can be picked up at the Walnut Ridge City Shop located at 330 Southwest Fourth Street.

Flooding is also expected to have a dramatic impact on the county's farmers as nearly all of the corn and 70 to 80 percent of the rice, if not more, has been planted.

County Extension Agent Herb Ginn said a lot of factors including how quickly the water recedes, when crops were planted and proximity to the rivers will factor into how the fields fare.

"A lot of fields are under," he said. "It will be a field by field case."

The Black River at Black Rock climbed to nearly 30 feet Monday but has since gone down. At Pocahontas, Black River provisional data reports measured the gage height at 28.8 Tuesday at 6 p.m. Up-to-date water levels can be found at waterdata.usgs.gov.

Numerous Lawrence County roads are under water, and highway closures were required east of Walnut Ridge along Highway 412 and on Highway 25 between Black Rock and Powhatan. Closures were also required on Highway 115 at Annieville and Jesup but have since reopened.

Thomison said they have stationed road department equipment and personnel on both sides of the river in the event that a closure of Highway 63 were to be required. Updates on road closures can be found at idrivearkansas.com.

Highway 67 in Pocahontas was closed Tuesday morning, and closures were also required on Highway 67 between Walnut Ridge and Pocahontas Tuesday afternoon. Parts of Pocahontas have been evacuated due to flooding. Black River Technical College ended its semester early due to flooding on campus.

Several Pocahontas businesses also closed due to flooding, including Peco Foods, Inc, which has moved several trucks to Lawrence County to avoid expected high waters at the plant.

Thomison verbally declared a disaster for the county on Monday, but said he anticipates a need for National Guard assistance beginning today. He said the cooperation seen among agencies and individuals in Lawrence County and surrounding counties has been inspiring.

"It is so appreciated," he said. "It's not over."

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