Iron Assists in Arkansas Flood Protection Effort

Mon April 07, 2008 - Southeast Edition
CEG



LITTLE ROCK (AP) Workers installed barriers used to stop insurgents’ bullets in Iraq to hold back water from a leaky levee along the swollen Black River, as more rain fell across an already soaked Arkansas.

Trucks dumped load after load of rocks over a flooded road March 28 near Pocahontas to build a path above the water for workers to install the HESCO bastion walls, said Randolph County Judge David Jansen. Workers used heavy equipment to fill the wire-mesh container’s plastic lining with about 7 cu. yds. (5.4 cu m) of sand in minutes — as opposed to the hours it takes to build a sandbag wall.

“You can imagine how many sandbags it would take to make one of these containers and sandbags have be handled individually by hand,” said P.J. Spaul, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “You can get more protection up more quickly with fewer people.”

Spaul said the corps brought 1,000 ft. (305 m) of the bastions to Pocahontas to hold back a cut in the levee along the Black River. The corps has another 500 ft. (152 m) of the bastions in Poplar Bluff, Mo., nearly 50 mi. (80 km) northeast of Pocahontas along the Black River.

Spaul said the U.S. military in Iraq often stacks the sand-filled barriers on top of each other to build walls to stop small-arms fire and some rocket attacks. The bastions, the height and length of a mid-size car, are about 3 ft. (0.9 m) wide.

The corps also will use about 500 ft. (152 m) of Portadams in Pocahontas as well, Spaul said. The steel barriers sit at an angle, covered with a fabric coating that repels water. Another 1,000 ft. (305 m) of the Portadam sits at the Jacksonport State Park, ready to be used if the White River floods downstream from the Black, Spaul said.

Jansen said the Black River had begun to recede slightly from the initial storms and flooding, but heavy rains were predicted. He said county workers began backing dump trucks filled with rocks against a flooded road to the levee March 28. Workers used a road grader to even out the rocks into a rough gravel road.

“We’ve never built a road underwater,” Jansen said. “It’s kind of hard to see.”

The flooding in Arkansas began with storms March 17 in the Midwest, and federal and state officials have been able to assess the damage only where the water has receded. Thirty-five counties — nearly half the state — have been declared federal disaster areas. One person was killed in the storms in Arkansas, and another remains missing.

Recent heavy rains also flooded parts of other states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. The weather has been linked to at least 17 deaths in the region.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency continued to assess counties damaged by flooding. FEMA administrator R. David Paulison traveled to flooded communities March 31 with state emergency management’s David Maxwell, said Grant Tennille, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe.

Near Pocahontas, water began rushing through two gaps in a neglected 60-year-old levee on the Black River. While initially considered breaches made by the rushing water, Spaul said it appeared farmers or other residents made a 200-ft.-wide cut to the levee over the years.

Jansen said he didn’t know what caused the water to rush through the levee. He said the corps told him the levee’s maintenance was his responsibility as the county’s top administrator.

“After this is all said and done and we get the levee put back, if it’s my responsibility, I’ll step forward and take responsibility for that,” he said. “We’ll maintain somehow, some way.”