A powerful storm system dumped heavy rains on Cleburne County Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Floods submerged roads, damaged some small bridges, and trapped a few vehicles around the county. The damage from the flooding prompted both Governor Asa Hutchinson and County Judge Jerry Holmes do declare Cleburne County a disaster area.
"It appears that the southern part of the county was hardest hit," said Judge Holmes. "In the northern part of the county, I've heard anywhere from 4 3/4 inches to down in the southern part of the county from 7 to 9 3/4 inches. In the Wilburn area, on Tyler Rd, we had a small bridge that was washed out. On Burnett Rd, a major tile was blown out. People couldn't get out of that area."
A truck on McJester Rd attempted to navigate a flooded road on Sunday, only to become trapped, and needing assistance.
"That happened just after I had left that area," said Holmes. "We had that area taped off, but apparently, they decided to go ahead and make the trip. There's a really good reason why we put tape across the road. When there's water running one to two to maybe three feet over, you don't know if a tile has been undermined or washed out. And all of a sudden, especially in a big truck, what are you going to do? You have no idea what's going to happen. You may think you can drive on it, but just about the time you get on that tile, it collapses. Like I said, there is a reason we put up barricades or tape a road off. We don't want to have to do that. We want traffic to flow. But we want it to flow safely."
As of Monday, Holmes said the waters had significantly subsided.
"Yesterday afternoon [Sunday] over the Rainbow Island bridge the water was probably about 5 feet over that bridge," said Holmes. "I dropped by there at about 6 this morning [Monday] and it was maybe about 10 feet down below the bridge."
The events of the weekend tragically claimed the life of one Cleburne resident. According to available reports, Cove Creek/Pearson Fire Chief Doug Deckard was out checking water lines at approximately 4 a.m. Sunday morning on Highway 25 South, north of the Faulkner County line, when a vehicle ran off the road and struck him. The preliminary report by the Arkansas State Police states the road conditions were wet and there was heavy rain at the time. At the time of this writing, there was no information available as to whether the weather was the cause of the driver running off the road.
"I had just left Doug," said Holmes. "He and I had worked together over there on the Cadron Creek bridge. He and I cleaned the debris off the bridge and the next thing I knew, I had received the call about his being hit. Doug was just invaluable to the community. Anytime there was anything going on in the community, Doug was out trying to see what he could do to help anybody. The Cove Creek/Pearson Fire Department is a reflection of how important he was to the community. Not only a great person, but a vast amount of knowledge has left our community."
The Cleburne County Sheriff's Office released the following state on Deckard's passing.
"Early Sunday morning, April 30, 2017, Cove Creek/Pearson Fire Chief Doug Deckard was out serving his community during the midst of a torrential thunderstorm. While checking a particular area, Doug was involved in a tragic accident and was killed. Doug served over 40 years as a firefighter, and was also the coordinator of the Cleburne County Search and Rescue Team, as well as holding multiple other roles across the county. He was a wonderful member of our community, and his kindness, work ethic, and enthusiasm will be sorely missed. His willingness to serve our community should be a shining example to us all. Please keep his family in your prayers I'm this time of great need."
Holmes said significant work is needed for repairs around the county.