BY LEANN DILBECK –
Last Thursday’s torrential rains that dumped an average 7.3 inches of rain, causing emergency flash flooding conditions, stranded motorists and damage to city streets, businesses, residences, county roads and bridges.
“There’s a lot of damage,” said Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison, “but it is not catastrophic… we’re just so grateful that as fast as it hit and as bad as it was that there was no loss of life.” Early assessments are at $350,000 worth of damage to county infrastructure with the damage being confined to Old Dallas, Nunley, Mena, Rocky, Alder Springs, Potter and Hatfield.
Multiple county agencies were involved in rescue efforts throughout the affected area, including the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, Mena Police Department, Office of Emergency Management, First Responders, and multiple fire departments. The local National Guard even had two high-water trucks brought in on stand-by for possible use in rescue efforts.
Polk County Deputy Scott Sawyer said it was the worst he had ever seen. The critically dangerous conditions led to a reported 40 people being rescued across the county; about 16 from homes and the rest from inside, or on top of, vehicles. Sheriff Mike Godfrey said that two of vehicles were stranded on railroad tracks, causing the KCS trains to be diverted due to obstructions on the lines. “I want to thank Mena Police Department, Mena Fire Department, and all the volunteers that helped in rescue efforts and also my deputies,” said Sawyer.
The bridge above was the backdrop for Ft. Smith news stations on Friday and was also the site of one of the numerous stranded motorists stories when three minors became stranded between it (Ward Creek) and the next Prairie Creek bridge after their vehicle flooded out. Those first on the scene, seeing the guardrail gone and chunks of asphalt, believed that the bridge had washed out after they had crossed. Officials were able to maintain cell phone communications with the teens until water receded.
There were no occupied structures washed away; however, several homes and businesses received extensive damage, some holding as much as three feet of water inside.
Mena Mayor George McKee reported that it was the worst he had ever seen, “There were areas flooded that had never flooded!” McKee said the Mena Fire Department was busy sandbagging to assist panicked residents as many streets turned into raging rivers. McKee joked, “We’ve had about three 100-year floods in the last year so that ought to be enough to last us for 300 years.”
McKee said it was too early to estimate damages but said most of the city’s expenses in this disaster will be in equipment and labor in unclogging culverts, ditches, and bridges from massive amounts of leaves, limbs, and other debris.
County crews have made all of the damaged areas passable but are delaying major repairs as the area braces itself for another 4 to 5 inches predicted between Monday and Wednesday.