Pine Bluff is cleaning up after repeated rounds of rainfall drenched the area over the weekend.
The National Weather Service in Little Rock says some parts of the state saw 8 to 10 inches of rain from the storm system over the past week.
In Pine Bluff, about 5 to 6 inches of rain fell, flooding the city’s police department and fire department headquarters on Saturday night. The facilities share space at the Civic Center.
Emergency management officials say several people had to be rescued from their vehicles or homes.
No injuries or deaths have been reported, although several high water rescues were performed on Saturday.
Fire Station No. 1, located in the Joe Thomas Public Safety Center, was hit hard.
Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said firefighters are still gathering information on the damage.
He said equipment that was in the bays, which included laundry machines, was inoperable. Also, equipment that refills air bottles was inoperable. Howell said calls have been made to the companies that supplied the equipment to get service technicians to examine it.
“We got hit pretty good in the engine bays, but we’re back operational while the cleanup is going on,” Howell said.
A big concern for Howell is the alarm room, which is located at the north end of the engine bay. Howell said that although the department no longer dispatches out of that room, it contains the radio that is used to communicate with MECA (Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association), as well as a computer.
“That’s one room that we need to make sure is operational,” Howell said. “Every station has a similar setup.”
While the cleanup is going on, Howell said it is business as usual for firefighters.
“Station One is up, and we’re still operating, so there’s no threat to the public,” he said.
Like the fire station in the other half of the building, the Police Department is cleaning up and assessing damages from flooding.
“We got a pretty good lick,” Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said. “In all the time I have been in Pine Bluff I’ve never seen it flood like that. There was just too much water.”
Sergeant said at least 12 computers will have to be replaced, including two that were used by the public to access reports, as well as computers that were located in the Service Division, which is directly behind the glass on the ground floor of the building.
“The water went all the way back to the back wall where the lieutenants’ and sergeants’ offices are located,” he said. “Anything that was on the floor is gone. The water back there was knee deep.”
In addition to the computers, Sergeant said the department lost four body cameras.
“We had some equipment in a storage room, and anything that was high enough up is OK, but anything that was down low was destroyed,” he said.
Water also inundated the children’s area of Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library headquarters, which sits across the Civic Center complex from the police and fire departments.
Library Director Bobbie Morgan said that no books or computers were damaged during the flooding. About a half-dozen workers were busy sweeping, mopping and re-organizing the children’s library on Monday, which, like the police and fire departments, is below ground at the Civic Center.
As in the police and fire department buildings, large fans were buzzing to help dry things out as the smell of mildew overpowered the area.
While flooding problems affected city facilities, Karen Blevins, the director of the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management, encouraged residents to report any damage they might have sustained.
According to a news release, Blevins said, “Jefferson County was subjected to severe storms and flooding on Saturday that may have caused damage to homes and businesses in the county. As a result, Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is collecting information regarding the affected properties.”
Please call 870-541-5470. Be prepared to answer these questions:
• Name of owner or renter of the property
• Address of property
• Contact phone number
• Is property a primary residence, rental, or business?
• Is the property a single-family home, mobile home, or multifamily/apartment building?
• What type of damage was sustained? How many inches of water was inside the home?
• Is the property or property contents insured?
• Estimated damage or loss
Information collected will be used to estimate the number and cost amount of damages within the county, which may help to make a determination for a disaster declaration.
Any storm or flood damages to homes and businesses should be documented with photos. If repairs are made, residents must keep all documents and receipts to be eligible for possible reimbursement.
Saturday’s heavy rain leaked into several rooms of the Jefferson County Election Center on Main Street, soaking the carpet, furniture and electrical room and causing lights not to function, according to election officials.
Some paper goods and printed material for the election were damaged but most of the key items had remained covered since the July.
“All of the approximately 260 iVotronic voting machines and three M-100 absentee ballot tabulators had already been sidelined due to water damage from the April and July roof leaks so the water that leaked on them Saturday was inconsequential,” said Election Commission Chairman Mike Adam.
The roof received temporary repairs after the April hailstorm, which permitted bringing in 114 replacement voting machines and the May election to proceed without any problems, Adam said.
“There was no sense of urgency by the county to obtain repairs, although everyone knew we had to begin preparing for the November election this month. An emergency could have been declared to legally bypass the bidding process to get us up and running,” Adam said.
According to Jefferson County Judge Booker Clemons’ office, the reason the roof has not been repaired is due to a discrepancy in the amount needed to fix it and the amount the insurance company will pay, which is around $4,000.
“Right now we are negotiating with the contractors and asking them to come down,” Clemons said, adding that, in addition to the Election Commission headquarters, there is roof damage to the Jefferson County Public Defenders and the Cooperative Extension offices that is in need of repair as well.
Election Commissioner Stuart “Stu” Soffer arranged for 150 free replacement iVotronics from Grant and Craighead counties, but they have not yet been picked up.
Adam said he wants to assure Jefferson County voters they “will not be disenfranchised because of events and every effort will be made to ensure there are sufficient reliable voting machines for them at all 39 polling places.”
Clemons also said that “there will be an election in Jefferson County in November.”
Why did flooding occur?
Pine Bluff sits 220 feet above sea level, which is much lower than many other Arkansas cities, such as Little Rock, which is at 335 feet and Jonesboro at 259 feet.
That’s one of the reasons the city floods during heavy rainfall like that seen on Saturday, meteorologists have said.
Pine Bluff Street Department Director Rick Rhoden said Monday that “everything was overwhelmed with water. We were out immediately shutting down more than 60 streets Saturday night. Normally when it floods we have about 12 streets that we close. It came down so fast.”
Rhoden said that as much as four inches of rain covered the shop floor at the Street Department, but “it drained pretty quick.” No major damage was reported there.
Rhoden said that the 12-foot drain pipes at the Civic Center are “some of the biggest we had,” noting that no amount of infrastructure improvements could have prevented the flooding.