Governor: Flood ruin 'new territory'

Long time until costs are known, he predicts

By Dale Ellis
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

PINE BLUFF -- Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that widespread flooding that has affected communities along the Arkansas River over the past two weeks is the most impactful natural disaster Arkansas has seen in his 4½ years as governor.

"We've had floods, we've had tornadoes, but we've never had anything as devastating as this historic flood that has reached levels that nobody has anticipated before," Hutchinson said while touring flood-damaged areas in Jefferson County.

Arkansas officials began bracing for flooding last month when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water from flood reduction lakes in Oklahoma after northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas received more than 7 inches of rain. Water was pushing into Arkansas by May 24, resulting in record crests and major flooding as the water worked its way downstream.

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Hutchinson said water has extended into areas where officials never expected floodwaters to reach.

"It's very unusual, too," he said. "A tornado hits, is done with, and you get to recovery. Here we've had weeks of preparation, actually, for this flooding, hard work, and it means it's a real stress on our emergency management teams who have to be there every day.

"So we're in new territory that we haven't seen before and the concern is, well, how long will the recovery part be? How long will it take for this historic, record flood to recede? Well, we'll just have to wait and see, and a lot of that depends on things that are out of our control, like the weather."

Hutchinson said it's too early to estimate the dollar amount of the damage or the overall economic impact of the flood.

"The only figure we have that is of great significance is that the loss of the navigation channel means a $23 million hit every day to the economy of Arkansas," he said. "That's the kind of economic impact that river has in its navigation system."

He said it is not known how long the river will be closed to navigation.

"It will be some time," Hutchinson said. "Some time."

The governor said he hopes to complete a preliminary damage assessment by the end of this week, which he said would enable him to request a formal disaster declaration from President Donald Trump's administration.

"That will help provide some individual assistance for the homeowners as well as some of the public infrastructure damage that has been done," Hutchinson said.

However, the governor said only limited assistance will be available to compensate individuals for uninsured losses.

"We have to get the federal declaration, and once it becomes a federal disaster there are some reimbursements that are available for some relocation expenses, some temporary shelter-type expenses," Hutchinson said. "There's going to be some available, but it's not going to be near sufficient to cover the loss to the homes that are uninsured." READ MORE.

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