As the floodwaters in northeast Arkansas recede, we are only beginning to measure the devastation and loss in that corner of our state. I have flown over the area twice, most recently with Sonny Perdue, our U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and we observe that the flooding is enormous.
The damage we see in photographs and video is striking, but as Secretary Perdue noted, you have to see the hundreds of square miles of water with your own eyes to begin to understand how bad it is.
The winds and water across the state killed nine Arkansans. We are blessed that the toll of the dead and injured didn’t go higher. We don’t know the exact monetary cost of the damage to dwellings, buildings and crops, but we know it will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
A team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency started its assessment on Wednesday. Representatives from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, the Small Business Administration, and local emergency agencies joined FEMA in inspecting about 90 of 400 homes in Washington County this week.
The team rates damage to homes as minor, moderate, damaged or destroyed. Melody Daniel, who is the deputy public information officer for ADEM, reported to my office that the team she accompanied saw major damage to homes.
Some homes were not on the list for inspection because homeowners had not reported damage. “If you have damage, let your local emergency management office know,” Melody said.
The Arkansas Army National Guard deployed 116 soldiers during the height of the storm.
Army National Guard Lieutenant Dalton Shannon coordinated rescues over the hardest-hit counties of Randolph, Clay, Lawrence, White and Prairie. The National Guard and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission agents made more than 50 water rescues in Randolph County alone.
Game and Fish agents picked up residents in boats and transported them to soldiers waiting in National Guard trucks to take them to shelters. The communities took great care of the men and women who arrived to help. Townsfolks cooked for them, washed their clothes, and gave them places to shower and sleep, Lieutenant Shannon said.
In spite of the mind-boggling destruction that Melody Daniel saw, the bigger impression that her trip left on her was the spirit of Arkansans.
As she said, “Arkansas as a state is resilient to disasters.” She saw one woman who was taking a break from the cleanup to work in her flowerbed.
“People were happy someone was there to look at the damage. We bounce back. We work together. That warms my heart, makes me proud.”
I declared a state of emergency for all of Arkansas on May 1. President Trump sent Secretary Perdue, a former farmer and an ex-governor of Georgia, to Arkansas on May 7. We hope for a federal declaration, which will infuse more money into our efforts.
There is little we can do to erase the grief and emotional trauma of this loss. But I hope you will have confidence that we have not forgotten you. We will do everything in our power to help you recover from the physical loss. To repeat Melody Daniel: Arkansans bounce back.