Sanders declares six counties disaster areas, issues relief funds

$1.18M goes to severe weather relief

Several trees rest on a house on Arkansas 7 North in Jessieville after a Jan. 2, 2023 tornado in this Jan. 3 file photo. (The Sentinel-Record/Lance Brownfield)
Several trees rest on a house on Arkansas 7 North in Jessieville after a Jan. 2, 2023 tornado in this Jan. 3 file photo. (The Sentinel-Record/Lance Brownfield)

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders authorized on Friday more than $1.18 million in disaster relief funds to aid parts of the state affected by severe weather earlier this month.

In a proclamation, Sanders permitted $1.18 million from the Governor's Response and Recovery Fund under the Individual Assistance Program for supplemental relief in Arkansas, Ashley, Garland, Lincoln and Phillips counties. The governor also authorized moneys from the fund under the Public Assistance Program for supplemental relief to Clay County.

Sanders declared all six counties disaster areas in the proclamation.

The funds authorized by Sanders will be used at the discretion of the director of the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management and will assist the counties and residents in recovering from storms, tornadoes and flooding that battered the state on or about Jan. 2.

Sanders also instructed state departments and agencies to render maximum assistance to the state Division of Emergency Management to help officials rapidly deliver aid.

Shortly after Sanders issued the proclamation, the division posted notices on social media of the opening of a call center on Monday to help residents from Arkansas, Ashley, Garland, Lincoln and Phillips counties apply for aid.

Homeowners or renters in these counties may be eligible for Arkansas disaster assistance if their primary residence was destroyed or made uninhabitable during the severe weather Jan. 2. To qualify for state aid, applicants must have eligible uninsured losses, according to the notice.

The call center will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and can be reached at (888) 683-2336. Residents have until Feb. 10 to file applications for assistance.

Gathering information from residents is the first step in the relief process, said LaTresha Woodruff, spokeswoman for the division.

State officials also will have to review claims during a damage assessment phase before issuing disaster assistance.

While Woodruff was uncertain of how long the entire process would take, she said state officials recognized people had faced damages and would move as quickly as possible to provide relief.

The amount of funding that would go to assisting Clay County through the Public Assistance Program was still unclear as of Friday. Officials would have to determine how much damage public entities suffered before assigning an amount, said Woodruff.

Several sets of severe thunderstorms tore through Arkansas on Jan. 2, pummeling communities with high winds and flooding parts of the state.

In the Jessieville area, a tornado touched down, causing damage to homes and the Jessieville School District campus.

The National Weather Service classified the tornado as an EF1 with winds peaking at 102 mph. The tornado lasted three minutes. It was on the ground for more than 2 miles and was 200 yards wide, according to the weather service's office in North Little Rock.

The tornado damaged approximately 20 structures, said Bo Robertson, director of the Garland County Department of Emergency Management, the day after the tornado struck.

An EF1 tornado is considered a weak tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale with estimated winds between 73 and 112 mph.

High winds snapped light poles at the Jessieville School District campus and hurled the visitor's bleachers to the home side of the football field. The roofs of the district's band building, cafeteria and elementary school were damaged.

Superintendent Melissa Speers said no students were injured, but two school staff members suffered minor injuries. Shortly after the storm, Garland County Sheriff Mike McCormick said he was unaware of any major injuries.

Speers on Friday said the district had started repairing parts of the campus but is waiting on final figures from its insurance company before restoring the football field. As a public entity, the district isn't eligible for the homeowner and renter assistance provided by the state in Garland County, but Speers hoped most of the damages would be covered by insurance.

In Hoxie and Walnut Ridge, roads were underwater Jan. 2. Vehicles had stalled in the water and an apartment complex was flooded, according to a social media message from the weather service.

A confirmed EF1 tornado with maximum estimated winds of 107 mph also tore through Union County. The tornado had a path length of 9.53 miles, according to the weather service.

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Hutcheson of the El Dorado News-Times and Brandon Smith and David Showers of the Hot Springs Sentinel Record.

  photo  A map showing the six Arkansas counties declared disaster areas

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