This time a year ago, Randolph County residents had their normal turned upside down. The culprit was water – and lots of it.
Much of the area, which is home to nearly 18,000 people, had flooded. The Black River swelled out of its banks and nine other levees in the county also breached because of heavy storms.
“Water, water, more water, and then mud … that’s what I saw,” said Randolph County Program Eligibility Specialist Melanie Briner. “I had to go around Pocahontas, 30 minutes out the way, to get to work in the Lawrence County DHS office 14 miles away. It was a hassle but you do what you have to do.”
Over 100 Arkansas National Guardsmen helped people flee the flood waters, which claimed one life. Despite the flood that also claimed our county office, DHS staffers found a way to get their jobs done, providing critical DHS assistance to people in need.
“That wasn’t our first flood. Our building was flooded in 2011,” said County Administrator Brenda Poindexter. “Before the flood, we got what we needed from our office and moved into a small area in the Lawrence County office. We made it a point to work with our clients as quickly as possible.”
When the waters receded, how damaged was the building?
“There was sand, mud, a strong musky odor, and it was very hot,” Briner said.
A contractor cleaned the building, removing any DHS items still in the office. Afterward, the landlord renovated the office and removed mold and residue left from the water.
“It was a massive project,” Poindexter said.
Randolph County staffers finally returned to their office for business on October 25.
Due to past flooding – and the building being next to the Black River – Briner remains on the lookout whenever heavy showers hit Pocahontas.
“As long as I don’t see water in our back field … I’m fine,” Briner said. “But we’re constantly watching the forecast to determine if we need to pack up and prepare to move from our office.”
“Last year at this time, we were in a situation we had no control over,” said Briner. “But we made it through. We had each other’s back and we continued to provide services to Randolph County.”
Cutline: Water covers much of Randolph County during the late spring and early summer of 2017, including the local DHS office. Even still, staff continued to serve the people. Photo taken by Stephen Thornton.