I have written to President Trump to request that he declare the Flood of 2019 a major disaster and provide the federal assistance that we will need to get back on our feet. My letter outlines the extensive destruction and loss along the Arkansas River and its tributaries from the Oklahoma border to Tennessee.
I made this request after I determined that the cost of recovery from the storms and flooding since May 21 is beyond the capacity of the state and local governments. It is important to note that I made the request while we are still under water. We won’t know the full extent of the loss until the water recedes. Early estimates show that nearly 900 homes in eight counties sustained major damage or have been destroyed.
I requested individual assistance for those eight counties. We are estimating that our losses will exceed $100 million in terms of public damage. Fortunately, Arkansans have heeded the advice to evacuate and to avoid driving through high water, and only one person has died in the flood.
For all the loss we’ve seen, it’s not as bad as it might have been because of the remarkable way Arkansans have pitched in to help – from the 6-year-old in Faulkner County to high school students to senior citizens.
People cooked meals for volunteers and delivered meals to those whose health or circumstances prevented them from going to the food sites. Volunteers staffed the shelters for people who had to leave home. And everywhere you looked from the Oklahoma-Arkansas line to the other end of the Arkansas River, people were filling sandbags.
Thousands of Arkansans have filled tens of thousands of bags. Six-year-old Collin Bradshaw and his 10-year-old brother, Spencer, were two of the youngest volunteers to shovel sand into bags. They were at the Conway Transportation Department in Faulkner County with their mother, Lindsay, a teacher with Conway Public Schools. She told the Log Cabin Democrat that she was proud to see many of her students helping others when they could have been out enjoying their summer break.
Tracy Touts was another teenager bagging sand. The 14-year-old lives near Tucker Creek. He was working at the Beaverfork Fire Department. His work could protect his own home as well as others, he told the Conway newspaper, and he encouraged others to help.
High school athletes turned out in big numbers. There’s no way to know how many teams volunteered, but I’m aware of a few – the Wampus Cat football players from Conway, Panthers football players from Greenbrier, Eagles from the Vilonia football team, Charging Wildcats basketball players from North Little Rock High, and a college baseball team, the Oklahoma City Ambassadors, which was in the state for a tournament.
Bobbie Peterson was another person who did what needed to be done. This wasn’t her first flood. She’s lived in the Dixie community in North Little Rock for more than 50 years. In the 1990 flood, the water was waist deep, she told a reporter. Bobbie, who is in her 70s, helps deliver meals, and then she goes back to filling bags.
The pictures and the video we’ve seen tell us this has been a bad flood. The weather watchers tell us we’ve never seen another one like it, and we’ve only just begun to count the cost. What I love about Arkansas is that I’ve never seen a catastrophe that’s bigger than our people. Thank you, Arkansas, for always rushing to help.