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By Larry Stroud, Batesville Daily Guard
Flood system discussed
Caption Below

Larry Stroud

Hardy Mayor Nina Thornton (from left), National Weather Service hydrologist Steve Bays, Hardy Fire Chief Lonnie Phelps and Hardy Police Chief Ernie Rose look at maps detailing a proposed early flood warning system. The plan was discussed Monday in the Old Hardy Gym.
HARDY -- The city of Hardy is looking for help in paying for a proposed early flood warning system.

The proposed system would add three streamflow gauging stations and three rain gauges to the two existing streamflow stations and one rain gauge operated by the U.S. Geological Survey in the upper Spring River Basin, Jaysson Funkhouser, a USGS surface water specialist from Little Rock, said.

Funkhouser, National Weather Service warning coordinaton meteorologist John Robinson of North Little Rock, NWS hydrologist Steve Bays of Cabot and others addressed about 60 people Monday night in the Old Hardy Gym, explaining the proposed Upper Spring River Flood Warning Network.

Hardy Mayor Nina Thornton said the city hopes to get a grant or some type of help from the federal government to get the project started.

Hopefully, that would pay for equipment . the gauges themselves . and their installation, she said.

The city will approach businesses, cities, communities and counties along the Spring River Basin in attempts to raise the estimated $20,000 in annual maintenance and operation costs, Thornton said.

The proposed additional streamflow gauges would be installed where the Warm Fork, Myatt and South Fork rivers run into the Spring River, giving an early warning should heavy rains fall in any of those areas.

Hardy and other areas downstream from there have to deal with not only the runoff from the upper basin, but also the rain that falls in their own areas, the speakers noted.

Each streamflow gauge has an encoder that automatically calls National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio systems for broadcast warnings when the water reaches a certain level, Bays said.

Each gauge also automatically telephones emergency rescue teams, police chiefs and others whose numbers are programmed into the gauge, and automatically sends updates to the USGS Web site to be immediately posted on its Web page. When flooding starts taking place, those updates will be automatically posted every 15 minutes, giving the water levels at the gauge sites.

In addition, police officers, emergency workers and other authorities can telephone the gauges at any time and receive updates from them.

Robinson said area television stations do a great job of keeping viewers updated on dangerous weather conditions, but said most folks go to bed at some point and are thus without a warning system unless they have a NOAA weather radio within hearing range.

The weather radios remain silent unless an alert is posted for your area, he said.

Then, it emits a loud warning signal and gives the weather information.

"In Arkansas, most of the major flash floods occur at night or start out at night," Robinson said. "Five of the last six tornado fatalities in Arkansas occurred when people were asleep. The tornado that hit Florida on Friday struck when people were asleep."

He said having a weather radio handy can save lives.

"Tornado sirens are for outdoor warnings," he said. "NOAA weather radio will continue broadcasting weather information 24 hours a day. For these middle of the night warnings, use the weather radio."

Bays said the radios are encoded for the listener's area. "It will come on and give you that warning. Otherwise, it just sits there quietly."

"I have one of those," Funkhouser said, and when it comes on to broadcast a severe weather warning, its signal should awaken its owners. "You'd have to be a hard sleeper to not hear that thing."

Funkhouser said the streamflow gauge in Hardy was updated recently, so the equipment there is new. That gauge was installed in 2001 and since then, Spring River at that gauge has exceeded the flood stage six times.

Projected cost for the proposed new gauges is $89,000, plus the $20,000 yearly operation and maintenance costs.

Jim Pitcock of Sen. Mark Pryor's office said Pryor will do whatever is possible to assist.

"This sounds like something FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) could have money for," he said. "We.ll help any way we can."

"We'd like to see everyone, the canoe rentals (owners), the campsites (owners), that they might all pitch in together and fund this a little bit," Hardy Police Chief Ernie Rose said.

He suggested that communities, cities, fire departments and other entities canvass the areas involved, asking businesses to commit to helping fund the early warning system.

Thornton said the area has 20,000 canoe rentals per year, so owners of those businesses may want to slightly increase their prices to help pay for the system. Insurance companies also may want to help, she said.

Fire Chief Lonnie Phelps compared the proposed warning system to what Hardy has had during past decades.

"I.ll tell you what you.ve had in the past, you.ve had Ernie and I out watching the river," he said.

Communities, cities and businesses in Randolph and Lawrence County will also be asked to help fund the warning system because it would benefit them, too, Hardy city officials said.

"If it saves only one life, it's worth it," Thornton said.

Two people died in flooding in the area in September, when some places in the Spring River Basin received as much as 12 inches of rain in a short period. The victims were Jackie Richardson, 55, of Trumann and 16-year-old junior firefighter Chris Allen Bodkins of Williford.

Water at the Hardy gauge rose 13 feet in less than 12 hours in the September flooding, including an eight-foot rise in less than 2 1/2 hours.

"Historically, levels were much higher in Hardy during the flood of December 1982," Bays said. "With many more people now living in the area, a repeat of flooding at the same level as 1982 could result in many more lives lost and significantly higher dollar loss in property."

For more information call Thornton's office at 856-3811.

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