Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Senators Tom Cotton and John Boozman and Congressmen Bruce Western and Steve Womack did a flyover tour of western and central Arkansas on Thursday to survey the damage in the wake of the historic flooding of the Arkansas River.
“It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of the flooding,” the governor said in a news conference following the flyover. “We’ve never seen this before; we’ve never had to deal with this before, so there a lot of unknowns.”
The tour allowed the leaders to see the record flooding at Toad Suck, Dardanelle, Ozark, Trimble Lock and Dam, Van Buren and Fort Smith.
The governor gave what he called a “conservative estimate” that more than 500 homes and thousands of acres of farmland have already been affected by floodwaters.
In addition to that damage, he said, the flood is having an impact of the state’s economy.
“The estimated daily loss of Arkansas’ GDP (gross domestic product) is $23 million,” Hutchinson said, noting the flood “disrupts the flow of the navigation system for the raw materials and finished products from our factories.”
Sen. Boozman said the flyover was an eye-opening experience.
“Historic flooding has left many communities along the Arkansas River unrecognizable. This is one of the worst natural disasters in our state’s history, but we can be proud of the resolve that Arkansans have demonstrated to face this challenge,” he said. “This continues to be a dangerous situation and we are fortunate to have the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, law enforcement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Arkansas National Guard and many other organizations and individuals who are closely monitoring the water levels, levees and dams and are ready to respond to potential emergencies.”
The governor praised agencies and volunteers who have been busily trying to help.
“We’ve all pulled together,” Hutchinson said. “I want to really stress how impactful the volunteers have been. Thank you for representing Arkansas so well.”
The governor had devoted $350,000 to emergency relief as of press time Thursday and has applied for federal assistance.
“We’re very mindful of the consequences and hope the water will recede quickly though we know it will be here for some time,” Hutchinson said. “We will need federal assistance in this. Be patient,. It’s not going to happen tomorrow or the next day. We’re going to be dealing with this for some time but it starts here.”
He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was “already on the ground” in the state.
“They’ll be a part of assessment. The most important thing that we can get done over the next 10 days is assessment,” he said. “Assessing how many homes have been destroyed; what are the businesses that have been displaced? What is the damage to our infrastructure?
“FEMA will help in making that assessment so we can then present it to Washington and so the president can make a decision on whether we meet the threshold for federal disaster. Based one experience, I do expect to reach that threshold.”
The governor said officials will be doing a “day-by-day” analysis to see if more counties are declared disasters.
Sen. Tom Cotton said he was encouraged by the community spirit he had witnessed.
“I hear strength, pride and communities coming together, not despair,” Cotton said. “People talking about how they’re going to rebuild and come back stronger than ever.”