Ice storm cripples area

Thursday, February 5, 2009
Typical scene on Wednesday, Jan. 28, as an ice storm moved across Buffalo Island leaving trees and power lines down and thousands of homes without power. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

In spite of the ice storm warnings on Tuesday, Buffalo Island residents were not prepared for the widespread devastation it left behind. Wednesday morning daylight brought the reality of how much damage the ice storm had caused throughout Northeast Arkansas and neighboring cities.

Buffalo Island was without power as thousands of power lines were down. City workers, police departments, firefighters, first responders and volunteers acted quickly in all of the towns clearing streets of debris, and checking on the safety of the citizens.

Ice didn't start melting until Friday afternoon leaving the area unsafe as power lines were down and tree limbs continued to fall.

Buffalo Island residents were among the 365,000 reported without power on Wednesday.

Hundreds of additional utility workers came in from several states to assist the local companies to help repair damage and replace poles and lines caused by the ice storm. Tree trimmers have been in the area removing tree limbs from the power lines.


Leachville Mayor Sheila Spurlock and city officials held an emergency meeting on Thursday afternoon to make sure everything was in place to help weather the storm as best possible.

Leachville was 100 percent out of power but never lost water service.

Members of the 875th Engineer Battalion Army National Guard out of Jonesboro arrived in Manila on Monday, Feb. 2, with four truck loads of emergency rations and water. They have been serving residents in Greene, Baxter, and Clay Counties as well as Mississippi County.

"I can't say enough about our police department, fire department, first responders, city workers, area farmers, and volunteers who stepped up," Mayor Spurlock said. "Leachville's water was never down and the city is jot under a boil order."

A shelter was set up at the Leachville Church of Christ for people to sleep and eat. Volunteers cooked the food and brought it in.

"Generators and power inverters were used to help people needing breathing treatments or other medical needs," Spurlock said. "We were as prepared as we could. Be had a disaster plan established and everything went as smoothly as possible thanks to the cooperation of our workers and community. Our city crew had the streets cleaned off quickly for emergency use. The public has been cooperative. All of our employees have worked 24/7.

Police Chief Keith Evans said the community has worked together.

"Danny Brown volunteered and served as dispatcher taking all calls which was a big help," Chief Evans said. "Several farmers including Lyerly, Hawkins, Adams Land Co., Wildy, Jackson, Edwards, and McCoy Trucking and Puckett Trucking and probably others have been great to help with equipment and others needs such as fuel. My officers and the first responders have worked hard and I appreciate their dedication to the citizens of Leachville. Pafford Ambulance Service has also been a great help"


Additional manpower arrived from several states to assist local crews restoring power across Northeast Arkansas.

Mayor Jerry "Chub" Qualls said on Friday Monette was in pretty good shape. City crews started cleaning streets and checking homes making sure the elderly or citizens with health problems were okay.

"Entergy had 23 trucks from Mississippi and Texas working with our local crews," Qualls said. "Teachers, staff and other volunteers from Buffalo Island Central in Monette cooked and fed the workers at the school cafeteria..

Qualls said they had not been a need for a shelter but Gregg Funeral Home and First Baptist Church had been available if needed.

"Headquarters was set up at the fire station and our fire department, police department and city workers have worked hard," he said. "Our policemen have been going out making sure the citizens with medical needs had access to treatments. The information we are getting is power will be restored in some places in Monette on Sunday or Monday.

"We had a large generator from the Lonoke Rural Water borrowed and got it on Wednesday. Our chemical system is good and our water is safe."

Qualls said it has been a learning experience.

"We have learned form this," Qualls said. "We have been in good shape with our gas and diesel. Home Oil Company and Craighead County Road in Black Oak has helped us. The county road foreman, Bo James, has stayed in touch with us and has been helpful. Fire Chief Bob Blankenship and his crew have worked 24/7 and gave their time to clearing driveways and helping wherever they could.

"This should be a wake up call to us for a possible earthquake," Qualls said. "If a tornado hits a town, the surrounding towns are always there to help. This storm affected all of the towns and we had to depend on ourselves."

Qualls said it will take time to get everything restored.

"We are hearing over 3,000 poles down in Craighead County alone," he said. "We are progressing but it may a week or two in some of our rural areas," he said. "I was just a kid in the storm of 1957 and we lived in the country. I can remember we were six weeks without power.

"Hopefully we will get word from FEMA and will get some help from the Federal Government. The President has declared us a Disaster area. This storm reached from Blytheville to Fayetteville across Arkansas."


As of Friday afternoon Mayor Barry Riley said he did not know when power would be restored. He said he was proud of the citizens of Caraway who have been good neighbors and watching out for each other through the ice storm.

"This is widespread," Riley said. "This is he worst since I've been in office. Usually when something happens in one town our neighbors are there but about all we can do now is stay in touch and see how they are doing. Mayors are meeting in Jonesboro everyday getting updates. We are staying in touch and working together. It is my understanding we have been declared a disaster area."

Riley said Caraway's city crew have been on the job.

"I am thankful no one got hurt," he said. "Trumann lost one of their people to the ice storm. My condolences and thoughts go out to the family and friends of Trumann's Chief of Police Larry Blagg who died when struck by a tree limb."

Riley said economically the storm will hurt.

"Our factory and some of our businesses had to shut down," Riley said. "Riley said their water has been up and running."

Caraway had received generators form the National Guard, one for the water and one for the sewer.

"We had one generator to blow up, but it was quickly changed over," Riley said. "We have been in touch with the Health Department and we are not under a boil order."

Riley said there are a lot of crews working to get power restored as quickly as possible. He reported a small percentage of electrical services had been restored by Friday evening. He expressed his appreciation to the businesses in town who stayed open to help meet the needs of the citizens.

Black Oak

Black Oak remained without power as of Sunday and Mayor Norman Williams said he is hopeful electric services will be up and running by Monday.

"The utility workers are working their way from Monette and hopefully we will have power by Monday or Tuesday," Mayor Williams said. "We are doing pretty good. It could have been worse."

Mayor Williams has been cleaning streets and checking on the elderly to make sure they have their medicine and food.

"Most have gas heat," he said. "Water was one of our main problems and Lake City has been great to help us out. When our tank went down twice, they would bring their generator and fill it back up. Everyone in the community has been helping each other. Something like this brings the community together. County Judge Dale Haas has been great to work with us. They have a big job with the clean up. We are fortunate to have such a good crew."

Williams has been attending meetings in Jonesboro and said everyone has kept them up to date. On Saturday a representative from FEMA was there.

"Everyone is working well together," he said.

Black Oak is under a boil order.


Manila began to get power restored on Saturday night.

Manila Mayor Clifford Veach said it is the worst ice storm he had ever been in.

"We lost power on Tuesday night and were without power for four and a half days," he said. "On Wednesday morning we made provisions to rent a large generator to run our water and sewer. We had water restored by Thursday night. Cities like ours don't have the back up. A system to keep the water and sewer up may cost a half million dollars."

Veach expressed his appreciation to everyone who helped.

"I am happy to have most of the power up in four and a half days," he said. "I underestimated the number of utility workers from other states that came in. We were glad to see them. I'm overwhelmed at the response we have had. We have been declared a disaster area and hopefully get to recover a portion of the cost of the storm."

Veach said City Hall opened on Monday.

"We will try to get back to business," he said. "I want to thank everyone who helped in every way. It was remarkable. I also commend the people in town and appreciate everyone who came up to bat. I'm proud of our people."

Director of public works Henry Ford reminds Manila citizens the city is under a boil order.

"Anytime the water goes down, we are under a boil order," he said. "The water is safe for bathing and laundry but as a precaution it should be boiled before being consumed."

Ford also commended the city workers for their dedicated work who immediately got the streets open for emergencies and driveways cleared so citizens could get out.

One city worker injured his shoulder cleaning debris.

Ford also said the city would start picking up limbs as soon as possible but asked residents to be patient.

"We have a lot of limbs down and it will take us a long time to get around," he said. "If anyone has the means and wants to they will be welcome to take their limbs and dump them behind the new fire station on Olympia Street. I just want the people to understand it could take a while for us to get around."

Lake City

City crews in Lake City were out in full force throughout the ice storm working for the safety of the public. Power was restored in parts of the city on Friday afternoon and when the ice melted, the city workers were out cleaning up the limbs and debris.

The First Baptist Church and Refuge Church cooked and served food.

A shelter was established in the tornado shelter.

Resident Michelle Kettler expressed her appreciation to the city for the shelter.

"I have a two year old and we did not have any heat," she said. "We had a warm place to stay and we appreciate it.

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