FORT SMITH, Ark. – Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas federal delegation have provided another update on the Arkansas River impact statewide.
They held a news conference at the Garrison Bridge following an aerial tour of the flood waters.
The federal delegation of US Senators John Boozman, Tom Cotton, and Congressmen Bruce Westerman, Steve Womack along with a staffer from Rep. French Hill’s office attended the tour with the governor.
Hutchinson began by saying how encouraging it was to see how much people have come together to help neighbors during the emergency situation.
He said that the federal delegation has been very supportive of the emergency declaration request that was submitted to the president asking for federal assistance which will be measured more closely in the coming days. “Their assessment will be instrumental as we move forward in the coming weeks,” says Governor Hutchinson.
“As I flew over today, the most significant impression that I had is that it’s hard to imagine the magnitude of the flooding. When you see it from the air, the breath of the flooding realized– the historic area that we are in, in terms of the Arkansas River, we have never seen this before, and we have never had to deal with this before. So there are a lot of unknowns.”
During the news conference, it was announced that conservatively over 500 homes have been affected by the flooding so far. One of the greatest impacts is thousands of acres of flooded farmland. The Secretary of Agriculture is monitoring the loss of crops and farmland.
The governor stressed how impactful the volunteers have been. “The sandbagging, what you’ve done to help your neighbors, helping them move furniture. Thank you for representing Arkansas so well.”
He recognized General Paul Owen with the Tulsa District of Corps of Engineers. “What you’ve allowed us to do by keeping us up to date on the flooding is to do more mitigation and more preventative work. This has saved property and saved lives as well.”
The disruption of Arkansas’ navigation system was discussed. Due to the loss of the navigation system, it is estimated that the daily loss of Arkansas’ GDP is $23 million.
He recognized the work of the Red Cross, for opening up centers and shelters for those that needed it. The governor also thanked the mayors, county judges, the Arkansas National Guard and leadership teams for their hands-on approach to the emergency situation.
“We have devoted $350,000 to emergency relief thus far. We will put what is needed in action to give communities the support that they need,” Governor Hutchinson said.
He added the need for Arkansans to be patient in the coming weeks.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow or the next day. It takes us time to be able to make the damage assessments and put them into place, so we can ask for the appropriate level of federal assistance. In the coming days it’s going to flow to Dardanelle and down the river to Morrilton and on to Little Rock and the farm country beyond. We will be dealing with this for some time. But it starts here and the way Fort Smith has responded is how I expect everybody across the state to be prepared and handle this emergency situation.”
Congressman Bruce Westerman, who sits on the water and environment sub-committee within the House Transportation Committee, mention that future work will be need on waterway infrastructure.
“I often say these waterways are out of sight and out of mind, of course, they are in full sight today. They are a very valuable part of our economy and a valuable part of flood control and protection. The infrastructure on these rivers is old and needs repair work done on it. It’s not just here in Arkansas. It’s happening in Oklahoma and on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. This is a historic year and I think here in Arkansas we are doing a great job of dealing with the situation that we are in.”
The governor expects that additional counties will be added as crest waters continue down the river “We’ll just have to wait day by day whether any counties need to be added. I expect that will happen as time goes on.”