About 140K without power in Arkansas

Published 1:35 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

Arkansas faced its own storm troubles Wednesday, with power out to about 140,000 homes and businesses, as the state continued to shelter thousands of Louisiana residents who fled their state days earlier in advance of Hurricane Gustav.

Work to restore power to some 95,000 Entergy Arkansas customers advanced slowly because of high winds, downed power lines, and flooded roads, company spokesman James Thompson said. Gusts up to 40 mph kept linemen on the ground, and Thompson said it could be Saturday before electricity is restored to all Entergy customers.

“We just cannot send our workers up in the bucket trucks. It’s a safety thing,” Thompson said.

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Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas reported some 40,000 customers without power among those served by co-op members. Cooperative spokesman Doug White said electricity should be restored to most customers by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, the state looked after more than 5,000 evacuees from Gustav at Fort Chaffee in western Arkansas and in 47 shelters that had opened since Louisiana residents began arriving over the weekend. Many others from the Gulf Coast were staying with friends and family.

Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said officials by Wednesday afternoon had not determined when the 2,308 people at Fort Chaffee would be taken home as they arrived — by government-chartered bus or plane. He said some shelter evacuees who drove in on their own apparently had headed back south.

As Hurricane Gustav turned into a tropical storm after landfall Monday, the subsequent heavy rains and winds soaked and battered Arkansas. As of late Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service reported rain totals of 8 inches at Hot Springs, 7.99 inches at Felsenthal, and 6.23 inches at Jessieville.

Forecasters said the storm should slowly drift north and move out of the state overnight, but would be accompanied by gusts of up to 30 mph and the possibility of tornadoes.

Wednesday, Jackson said at least 15 counties reported flooding and Pope County officials requested sandbags to keep the water out. Many schools closed.

More than 8 inches of rain fell at Hampton, where three people were safely evacuated from their residences to stay with family, he said. Damage was reported to parked cars and power lines from falling tree limbs, but no major injuries were reported, he said.

Steve Bays, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in North Little Rock, said the Ouachita River below Garland County would flood because of releases from Remmel Dam. Arkadelphia would be among the places affected, he said. But Bays said the main concern was flooding where motorists would be in danger at low water crossings, especially after dark.

Entergy Arkansas’ Thompson said that by mid-day Wednesday, the outages were down to about 88,000. Hot Springs had 27,000 outages at its peak and Little Rock had 26,000. Thompson said those fell to 20,000 outages in Little Rock by mid-day and 25,000 in Hot Springs. He reported outages of 7,200 in Malvern, 7,000 in Russellville, and 6,600 in Pine Bluff.

Thompson said the company sent 200 of its 400 linemen to Louisiana on Monday and those crews were returning Wednesday to help in Arkansas. Also, Entergy Arkansas contracted an additional 186 linemen who had been headed toward Louisiana to restore power there. He said the company also had to compete for tree trimmers and wait for county agencies to clear roads.

“Everybody that we can get will be on the ground running in the morning,” Thompson said.

Dr. William Mason, incident commander with the Arkansas Health Department, said local, state and federal agencies were working well together to provide services to evacuees.

Since the influx, almost 270 patients who were in hospitals in New Orleans were admitted to Arkansas hospitals. At Fort Chaffee, 160 people with health concerns saw a volunteer health-professional team.

Health department workers were inspecting shelters statewide to make sure the food, water and sanitation was acceptable, and department nurses and doctors were monitoring evacuees for any signs of illness.

Mason said friends and relatives of those who fled Louisiana to Arkansas ahead of Gustav can call a hotline for word of their loved ones.

The hotline number is 1-800-651-3493.