Mother Nature was not really kind to Pine Bluff in late Spring and early Summer as first a tornado and then massive flooding affected a number of residents.
First was the E-F1 tornado that hit May 9, displacing approximately 200 families and knocking down power lines and poles in southeast part of the city.
According to the National Weather Service, the tornado packed winds of between 86 and 110 miles per hour, was 100 yards wide and traveled 0.26 miles, starting on South Wisconsin Street and then headed northeast over the Myranda Place Apartments which sustained heavy damage.
Reports from the scene indicated that at least two walls caved in, leaving apartments exposed. Trees and utility poles were snapped and at least two trees were uprooted.
Shortly after the tornado hit, a shelter was set up at the Pine Bluff Convention Center where approximately 50 people were sent. Mayor Shirley Washington was at the center to assist and said “We have had outreach from citizens and churches all offering their support. It is times like this that you realize the true meaning of community.”
In addition to Pine Bluff Police and firefighters, help came quickly in the form of Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputies, Arkansas State Troopers, the White Hall Police and Fire Departments and some other volunteer firefighters.
White Hall Mayor Noel Foster said he knew that if his city had a need, the city of Pine Bluff would respond so he did not hesitate in sending help.
“The City of White Hall will always respond to help those in need,” Foster said. “We enjoy a great relationship with Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and the Mayor’s leadership team. Pine Bluff would do the same to help us if we were in need.”
There were no fatalities and only a few minor injuries as a result of the tornado.
Less than a month later, flooding on the Arkansas River affected cities from Fort Smith all the way south and Pine Bluff was no exception.
By May 28, the river stood at 44.5 feet and was continuing to rise. Flood stage at Pine Bluff is 42 feet. Water surrounded homes in the Island Harbor area, as well as Riverside Drive, Knotts Island, Wright-Pastoria and Trulock Bay.
Regional Park was flooded, forcing the closing of the Delta Rivers Nature Center, which now is not expected to reopen until early in 2020. Also the Harbor Oaks Golf Course and restaurant were flooded and the campers that had been staying in the park moved to higher ground, taking their vehicles to the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
County Judge Gerald Robinson and Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Karen Blevins coordinated the county’s response to the conditions and expressed concern not only about the areas that had already flooded but about the possibility of flooding in the Packingtown area on the extreme northeast side of Pine Bluff.
Those fears proved to be groundless as the levees in the area held and Packingtown was spared flooding.
On June 6, Robinson said in an interview that over 550 homes had been affected, describing it as “millions and millions of dollars as far as damages go. We haven’t been able to put down a dollar figure yet but as the water recedes, we will start to make some determinations,”
According to a report, the river finally crested at 50.8 feet on June 7 at the slackwater harbor in the Port of Pine Bluff, making it the second highest in history locally. In 1943, the river crested at 52.1 feet.