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Flooding continues to plague Ark., Mo.

Homes evacuated again along the White and Black Rivers, flooding hits 50-year mark in Arkansas for the second time in two months.

LITTLE ROCK | April 12, 2008

The rain has ended, but rivers are continuing to flood parts of Missouri and Arkansas and as still more evacuations take place, the latest round of flooding has claimed at least two lives.

A levee along the Black River in Missouri failed for the second time in two weeks Saturday forcing the evacuation of more than 50 homes. Bob Fredwell, Butler County's Fire Chief said the evacuated homes were east of Popular Bluff in the southeastern part of the state.

As a result of the levee break, floodwaters are expected to cover 15 to 20 square miles of the county, local emergency management officials said Saturday.

In Arkansas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the spillways at Bull Shoals Lake Saturday creating even more flooding along the White River.

Emergency officials said two people in a pickup truck died Saturday when their vehicle was engulfed in flood water.

Meanwhile, assessment teams have been moving slowly across northern and western parts of Arkansas trying to determine the amount of damage to the state's infrastructure. The best they have been able to do is an incomplete estimate.

And even those estimates may now need to be redone. Residents along the Spring and White Rivers were pumping water and filling sandbags Friday following the latest round of storms this week.

"The teams are just doing the assessments the one county at a time, beginning with the infrastructure," said Renee Preslar of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. She said the damage estimates on houses and individual property will be done later.

Part of the problem is the weather, according to meteorologist Steve Bay of the National Weather Service in Little Rock. Rain has been falling on and off since last week. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to release water from six dams, all of which drain into the White River.

Friday's flooding on the White River reached the 50-year mark in several places -- the second time in two months according to Jaysson Funkhouser, a surface water specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Little Rock. He told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that he doubts he will see that happen again.

To have that happen two times in three weeks is not statistically impossible,” he said, “but you probably have a better chance of winning the lottery.”

In the counties where the damage has been estimated, just under $8 million to public roads and property has been documented, but that number is expected to rise to as much as $50 million as flood waters recede in the 11 remaining flood damaged counties.

Seth Gardner of NECHAMA Jewish Relief said he and a group of volunteers spent the first week of this month in Missouri where they helped a variety of other relief groups south of St. Louis in doing some repairs on houses.

"In Arkansas, a lot of people are saying it's too early to do anything. They are still just holding off until this is over. They're sandbagging and doing prevention still," he said.

Since February, the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church has distributed more than 700 flood buckets, health kits and bedding kits.

In counties in the southeastern part of the state, the water levels continue to rise and many roads are not passable for the teams to access the areas and, Preslar said, if the roads are underwater, "it's hard to see how much damage there is to them."

Bay added that those counties that had already begun to dry out from the flooding are likely to experience additional flood conditions in the wake of the new storms.

"It's just something we have to wait and see where it goes and where the border sets up," he explained. "The rivers are already so high above the flood stage it won't take much to bring the waters back where they had started to dry out."

Mennonite Disaster Service has volunteers available when needs are identified, according to Roy Hostetler. They have found some people doing minor repairs on their homes, but few have started to rebuild. Six Long Term Recovery Committees have been formed across the state.

According to Preslar, the White River continues to rise in the counties to the south. In St. Charles, which is at the bottom of the White River, the river has not yet crested. When it does, she said, there will be quite a bit more damage to areas already devastated by the water. She said some cities, like Clerendon, which have sustained quite a bit of damage already, will be damaged even further.

While official damage estimates may be quite some time away and the estimates that have already been done may have to be redone, Preslar said ADEM and FEMA are getting unofficial reports from residents and other observers who report that damage to crops is extensive and that entire neighborhoods in some regions are underwater.

Homemade videos have appeared on the internet on sites like YouTube that show the swollen rivers with houses floating downstream and fields where only the tops of the spring crops are visible at the surface of the water. Damage assessments have to be done methodically and carefully in order for official figures to be compiled by FEMA.

"Until the assessment teams have had a chance to look over these areas," she said, "we can't officially say there is any damage except to that infrastructure that has already been documented."

Preslar said the assessment teams had hoped to have their work on the infrastructure estimates done by the end of last week, but the hazardous weather over the weekend and the new rain storms this week may hold the work back for more time.

Arkansas emergency management personnel opened a few emergency shelters when the flood waters started to rise a few weeks ago, but those shelters have closed, Preslar said, because those in need went to stay with family and friends until the waters recede. When people begin to find their way back home to assess the damage to their own homes, they may find the need to reopen shelters to those who find their houses uninhabitable.

Other organizations are waiting in the wings with clean up supplies and volunteers ready to stay from a week to a month in order to help residents get back on their feet.

"We're just waiting and watching the weather and the rivers for now," Preslar said.

Minor flooding was also reported Saturday in Mississippi, Illinois and New York.

-- VICKI DeSORMIER contributed to this story.


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