Fulton County was hit hard March 18-19 with torrential down pours that caused county wide flooding, damaged houses and endangered lives. The damage estimates to the road system alone has exceeded the million dollar mark.
"The rain didn't really have that much effect on law enforcement, although there were a few swift water rescue calls," Fulton County Office of Emergency Management and Salem Police Chief Al Roork said. "We had one here in Salem out on Highway 395. A guy (Lawrence Newman) had attempted to walk across the bridge just outside the city limits and got swept away. He was able to hold on to a limb and the Salem Fire Department went out and rescued him. I think he was trying to get home," he said.
"We had some swift water rescues on the Spring River in the Saddler Falls area. I think it was a woman and her son -- What it was, they just stayed in the house too long and the river came up pretty quick and they couldn't get out of the house. Dispatchers actually called us (Salem Fire Department) to go over there but when it comes to the Spring River, we are not properly equipped," Roork said.
"We are swift water rescue trained but that doesn't mean anything if you don't have the right equipment. We are a very well equipped department in a lot of ways but when it comes to that, we are not; just a couple life preservers and some rope and that won't work. You don't do that in Spring River, you need a boat," he said.
According to Roork the Salem Fire Department went to the RV park next to White Oak Station in Salem and disconnected the sewer and the electricity from motor homes surrounded by the rising water. They also prepared to move the mobile homes had the water became too high, but that was just one of several tense situations in Salem.
"We had some people that got stranded at the old Salem plastics building where Superior Sewing is now and couldn't get out," Roork said.
According to Roork, the people couldn't cross the road because it was covered in water. To get them out rescue had to go down Fairview Road and then down Baker Berry Lane. The people were able to get to the airport and on to safety.
Now that the waters have receded, people trapped and swift water rescue is not in the forefront of the issues facing Fulton?County.
"A big problem we have right now is recovery and trying to get the roads back. A lot of roads are not usable at all, not even in a 4-wheel-drive," Roork said.
"Whippoorwilll Road for example, there is an area down there that is about 40-feet wide and eight- or 10-feet deep where it is washed out. You couldn't cross it in a bulldozer, the tiles are gone and everything. There are places all over the county that have fell through. They are going to have to come in with backhoes and dig down to where it is fairly firm and then go back in with large rocks and then over that with smaller aggregate rocks," he said.
"That damage is just everywhere; the roads are just washed away. I had several conversations with Fulton County Judge Charles Willett and he thinks that just the county road damage alone will be between one and two million dollars," Roork said.
"We have to understand that Fulton County has a limited number of trucks and road graders and things like that. There are a little fewer than 600 roads in the county to maintain and they all have problems. So, if you can get over your road, you don't have a gripe. A lot of people can't get over their roads at all. With six or seven dump trucks, we are asking people to please be patient," he said.
"It is going to take time. The county worked way into the night last night (March 19) and they were back at it at daylight this morning (March 20) and they are doing everything humanly possible to get the roads back to where they are at least passable. They have been doing a lot of spot grading, because they can do it a lot quicker and cover a lot more territory. Then later on when they can get caught up they can come back and grade them," he said.
"We have got to get these roads cleaned up so we can get ambulances and fire trucks down them and back to work," Roork said.
According to Roork, there are at least 120 homes near Spring River that were damaged by the water. After looking at aerial images, Roork and Fulton County 9-1-1 Coordinator David Keck saw that the water level rose over the railroad tracks along the riverbanks.
"The railroad is built with the 100 year flood in mind. They put it up above any possible flood plane. Well, the water level got over it. So, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management is calling this the 100 year flood," Roork said.
The ADEM is inquiring about the number of houses damaged by the water to see if Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe can have it declared a federal disaster so individuals can receive assistance, according to Roork.
"Those people can't buy flood insurance. The insurance companies just won't sell it to them. We looked at the aerial photo of the houses that were along the river; seeing that the water level got over the railroad tracks you can logically assume the water got into those houses. It is about 120 of them in Fulton County alone," Roork said.
"Anybody that had water damage over in that area needs to call the Fulton County Judge's Office at 895-3341 and tell us who they are and what kind of damage they had, whether or not they can access their home and whether or not it is inhabitable, because we need to let the state and FEMA know," he said.
The situation with the roads in the county is dire, according to Roork. The county has had to hire private contractors to assist in recovery.
"This has been probably the most devastating rain event that we have ever had as far as damage to our county roads" he said.