First chainsaws now boats needed

Repetitive storms take toll on residents, responders in Arkansas

BY BOND BRUNGARD | BENTON, ARK | April 10, 2008



"There are so many people in need, so many places in need. . . One of my colleagues said itís overwhelming, and it is. Itís weather - related trauma."

—Rev. Maxine Allen, Arkansas Conference The United Methodist Church


First they needed chainsaws to clear the trees strewn by tornadoes that ripped through central Arkansas last week. And now they need boats.

Heavy winds and rains were forecast for Saline County Thursday and the call has gone out for flat bottom and inflatable boats.

“The good news is that this is the last storm” for a while, said Joy Ballard, an assistant to Saline County Judge Lanny Fite, the county’s chief administrator.

Pleasant weather is forecast for the coming week -- time to continue the cleanup from the tornadoes a week ago and time to dry out.

It is almost the middle of April and residents throughout the state have been coping with tornadoes, heavy rain, snow and flooding since early February.

Since the beginning of February, volunteers from the Arkansas State Baptist Convention have served about 15,000 meals, and chainsaw crews, some on standby to clean-up from this current round of storms, cleared more than 160 land sites. And 10 homes were also mudded out by volunteers following flooding March 24-29.

“We haven’t approached compassion fatigue yet,” said Dr. Emil Turner, the executive director of the Arkansas State Baptist Convention.

But if the state is battered for another month, Turner is not so sure how his volunteers will hold up.

Saline County is one of 46, out of the 75 Arkansas counties, that have declared disaster areas by the federal government. Ginger Bailey, chairman of Arkansas VOAD, said schools were closed in anticipation of more flooding.

Heavy rains followed the tornadoes that ripped through the state and tore up communities like Bryant. Bailey said she recently traveled to Leewood, in Pulaski County, and she said it’s still very messy from the harsh spring weather.

“The water is not receding,” she said. “It’s just muddy and sloshy.”

Parts of northern Arkansas received up to five inches of rain overnight from Wednesday into Thursday, and storms Thursday were predicted to cause heavy winds, hail and a possible tornado.

A release of excess water from the Norfork Dam is causing flooding on the Norfork River, below the dam. And that affects northern parts of the White River around Calico and Batesville. The Buffalo River is also flooding.

The Rev. Maxine Allen, the disaster coordinator for the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church, was sitting in her office in Little Rock late Thursday morning and tornado sirens were blaring outside.

“There are so many people in need, so many places in need,” she said. “One of my colleagues said it’s overwhelming, and it is. It’s weather-related trauma.”

Allen was in Bryant, Arkansas, a week ago when 125 people were sent into shelters after tornadoes hit the community. As of Wednesday, only 25 people remained in the shelter of the First Pentecostal Church in Bryant.

Despite the pleasant weather forecast during the next week, Allen worries about those living in the delta areas in eastern Arkansas, downstream along the Arkansas, White and Black rivers and along the Mississippi River.

“The Mississippi is already at flood stage. It can’t take any more water,” she said.


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