As of Monday, June 3, floodwaters had receded by several feet in Fort Smith, giving homeowners in flood-affected neighborhoods hope that they’d soon return to normal life. City administrators warned people to be patient, as the recovery project would still take days to put into place.
The biggest issue concerning an immediate return to everyday activities is water-damaged electrical appliances, said Jimmie Deer, the city’s building official. As the electricity returns by Tuesday or Wednesday, the threat of fire or electrocution looms as a possibility.
“We want to make sure the citizens understand that if the electric gets energized, and you’ve got power to your house, be awful careful because water and electric do not mix,” Deer said. “Our main concern is you need to hire a licensed electrical contractor or electrical engineer to come out and verify everything from a safety standpoint.”
Another problem these homeowners will face is debris, said Carl Geffken, Fort Smith’s city administrator. When the water recedes, it is likely to leave objects in people’s yards. Unlike the debris deposited by a tornado, these can’t be burned, so county officials in Van Buren and Fort Smith will work together to devise a plan for transporting the materials to a landfill, Geffken said.
“At this point, we would just like you to be patient,” Geffken said. “We will work with the county, as well, for the collection of debris for the rest of the county in addition to Fort Smith.”
The major call for prolonged waiting is financially tied into the arrival of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorities. They will assess the damage to give an accurate statement of monetary need, and without these numbers, federal assistance will be less than the projected need, said Rep. Steve Womack.
“Look, they’re going to have to basically take these homes down to a skeleton sort of level, ripping out sheetrock and flooring and all that kind of stuff in order to begin the process to rebuild,” Womack said. “It’s going to be a very time-consuming process. Depending on where they are, there will have to be some decisions made as to whether or not to even rebuild.”
People who set up sandbags on their property should dispose of the bags that were contaminated with floodwater, Geffken said. Those with clean bags can have them transported by private companies and churches, many of which would be happy to send someone to retrieve them, Geffken said.
Really, the arduous rebuilding process simply requires the time taken to fulfill the preliminary steps.
“We need everyone still to have their patience so the damage can be assessed by the authorities,” Geffken said. “Then, we will be able to move into the total recovery process.”