June 15-18, 2019
The smell – that’s new. Now, the water has mostly receded, and the impact of this flood touches every sense, even taste. Is that mold? That can’t be healthy.
The hum of activity has moved from those houses actively fighting the water to those houses that were overcome by it. Down the road from Hargett Island, a small, masked (the breathing variety) army of volunteers has already started clearing the Ritchey home.
By the time I arrive and introduce myself to Brian Ritchey, a retired Arkansas Army National Guard major, it is still early Sunday morning. About 15 of his family members and friends are already removing everything from the home and placing it in one of two piles: “Keep” and “Trash.”
“Trash” is growing. “Keep” is being eyed suspiciously. The word contaminated is being bandied about.
The Ritchey Home
Inside the Ritchey home, the air is thick and humid like nothing I’ve ever experienced. As I watch masked workers in the kitchen are cleaning out cupboards, my camera seems hard to focus.
I look up from my viewfinder and find the scene still soft. I’m actually shooting through a mist in the air. Back in the 1990s, I used to use a $100 Tiffen Pro Mist filter to try to make my video look more like film. Today, the effect is free.
Later, I grab a moment with Brian while he is in the cab of his truck. “I probably won’t live here again,” he said, “28 years down the drain … washed away.”
Bill Holmes, the brother of former AETN producer Jim Holmes, says about the same thing. He moved to Treasure Hills in 1976, and raised his children here.
After the flood of 2016, he and his wife updated their home: new kitchen, new floors, new walls – and a nice new loan to pay for the work. It’s a loan that they are still paying on. “I know one thing, we are outta here ...” he told me, “I’m gonna take a bulldozer to that thing.”
Home after home and day after day, the debris piles up. Furniture, toys, clothes: all painful reminders of tough choices made.
Yet, tough choices remain: stay and rebuild, or head to higher and dryer ground. For Bill Holmes and Brian Ritchey, that choice is simple: say goodbye before the next 500 year flood comes. For the Hargetts and the Johnsons, I think that they are staying.
Paul, feeling stronger with every passing day, is out power washing his driveway with his neighbor Kyle. It feels good to see the smile on his face. He and his wife Linda have been through a lot lately, and the road back to normal will be long.
But, first, they have to meet their new neighbors, and I get the wonderful pleasure of introducing them.
AETN producer Kevin Thomas Clark – a Blytheville native – will provide ongoing coverage of the historic 2019 Arkansas River flood in the Conway area through blogs and a digital-first video series. Watch for updates in coming weeks on the AETN Engage blog and AETN social media outlets.