Pocahontas Relief Efforts Continue

POCAHONTAS, Arkansas — Clean-up efforts continue after flooding caused severe damage.

Randolph County Judge David Jansen said three major and several minor breaches occurred in the levee designed by the Arkansas Corps of Engineers. Flood waters flowed over the levee at a span of 3-4 miles for 4-5 hours, he said. It caused the levee to “churn” and eventually resulted in the breaches.

Although the property damage proved to be extensive, Jansen said the county’s first priority remained resident’s lives.

“Our No. 1 goal when this event started was no loss of life, and we’ve achieved that,” Jansen said.

Jeff Harris looks at flood damage in his Pocahontas home. Pocahontas suffered extensive flood damage after breaches in levee breech. (Photo by Kimberely Blackburn)

The Aftermath

Pocahontas resident Jeff Harris lost almost everything in the flood. After the call to evacuate came, his family prepared as best they could. He and his 10-year-old son Colton put the kitchen appliances on cinder blocks to help shield them from the water. This task proved difficult as Harris experiences health problems that cause difficulty with his daily movements.

Harris is no stranger to struggle. He said he’s lived through a brain tumor, being electrocuted and watching his father suffer the effects of being hit by a drunk driver. Most recently, his 7-year-old daughter Lorraine underwent open-heart surgery at Arkansas Children’s Hospital to correct a heart murmur.

Harris, wife Stephanie and their family currently live with his grandmother in a small home outside the flood zone. He said they will rebuild.

Neighbor Laura Williford said her house took 7 inches of water; her enclosed patio held 18 inches. She said her family put their possessions high enough by stacking them on the deep freeze. But the water flipped the freezer, which was on the patio. She said she will rebuild.

“Where else can you go? We don’t have any houses around here,” she said.

While staying at the American Red Cross shelter until she can move back into her house, someone gave her a small travel trailer.

A Community Unites

In his 13th year as judge, Jansen said he has served through many natural disasters, but this one hit him hard. Yet the influx of help from within and outside the community encourages him. As of May 22, Jansen said 33 residents resided at the Red Cross shelter.

Red Cross volunteer Stan Rosenzweig said those displaced receive everything from shelter and food to just a warm hug and blanket. Volunteers arrived from all over the country to help with the relief efforts; he came from Salt Lake City, Utah. Other volunteers in the relief effort hail from Minnesota, Massachusetts, and California.

Rosenzweig said volunteers do 91 percent of work done by the Red Cross. He said currently over 70,000 volunteers nationwide assist with disaster relief.

A member of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention Disaster Relief team helps remove water from flood-damaged homes. Other team members brought supplies to assist with the flood relief. (Photo by Darryl J. Kelley, courtesy of ABSC Disaster Relief)

Arkansas Baptist State Convention Disaster Relief unit commander Jack Chandler said the team works closely with the Red Cross to feed residents, and provide hot showers and laundry services at the shelter. Several ABSC Disaster Relief teams helped remove damaged housing materials after the flood. Chandler said after the homes dry, the teams return to spray mold killer to help protect the homeowner.

ABSC Disaster Relief team member Steve Thomas said all team leaders train in specialized areas to help assist with the efforts. Other volunteers train in various areas, e.g. food safety, to best help the community hit by a natural disaster.

Harris said he received help from a variety of places. Cody Walker arrived with Reach out Worldwide, an organization started by his deceased brother, actor Paul Walker. Harris said the organization provided $18,000 in removal assistance. He said many others came to help him remove damaged furniture and housing materials.

“Everyone who has come to my house and helped me have been angels,” Harris said.

Jansen said Pocahontas officials, concerned with possible scammers taking advantage of residents, required all contractors to register with the city. The city compliance officer and Pocahontas police patrolled the area to ensure compliance.

Jansen said the city and county opted to not handle monetary donations. Instead, the Pocahontas Ministerial Alliance works with the Salvation Army to take donations. He said they placed a series of checks and balances to ensure residents receive all donations.

“I want to thank everyone who has helped from the bottom of my heart,” Jansen said.

Future Planning

The Corps of Engineers hired an engineer to study possible solutions to the Black River water problem. Jansen said all the water goes under the Black River Bridge, but the bridge cannot adequately handle the influx of water from floods of this type.

The engineer will present the findings of the study to the levee board, which will then determine the best course of action. No date has been set for the study completion.

Jansen said possible solutions include flood relief gates and restructuring the Black River Bridge. For flood relief gates to work properly, a dam would need to be constructed, continue through Lawrence County and cross three state highways. Jansen said such a project would require the acquisition of land and several overpasses to work properly, which is a large undertaking for a small county.

Jansen said his concern lies in funding such a project. He estimates the cost to be a minimum of $6 million and Randolph County does not possess the funds to cover such a project. He said he has contacted the county’s Congressional leadership for help.

***

(Editor’s Note: The featured image at the top of the page shows soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard’s 87th Troop Command assisting Randolph County authorities with evacuation assistance in Pocahontas Tuesday, May 2, 2017. The soldiers were activated in response to flooding in the area from multiple rivers. (Courtesy of the Arkansas National Guard) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

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