Flood watch reaches state of emer­gency

Gov­er­nor di­rects Na­tional Guard res­cue teams to western Arkansas

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - CLARA TURNAGE

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son de­clared a state of emer­gency Fri­day ahead of a rush of wa­ter that is pre­dicted to cause his­toric flood­ing along the Arkansas River and in­crease its flow to nearly eight times what is con­sid­ered dan­ger­ous, au­thor­i­ties said.

Crest rates for the river are rising in Arkansas as wa­ter creeps closer from Ok­la­homa, where 6 to 12 inches of rain has fallen in the past week. The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said Fri­day that the an­tic­i­pated flood level in Van Buren will be 41 feet when it crests Sun­day, 3 feet higher than the high­est-recorded crest in that area and nearly 5 feet higher than the wa­ter has risen in 30 years.

Ozark, Dar­danelle, Mor­ril­ton, Toad Suck and Pendle­ton — along with sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties in be­tween — are ex­pected to flood higher than they have in 30 years as the wa­ter moves south­east over the next week.

Wa­ter flows at Trim­ble Lock and Dam near Fort Smith were at 340,000 cu­bic feet per sec­ond Fri­day and are ex­pected to peak at 560,000 cu­bic feet by Mon­day. A small-craft ad­vi­sory is is­sued at 70,000 cu­bic feet, when the wa­ter is con­sid­ered too dan­ger­ous to safely op­er­ate a small boat.

“This is quite pos­si­bly the most dan­ger­ous body of wa­ter in North Amer­ica right

now,” said Melody Daniel, spokesman for the Arkansas De­part­ment of Emer­gency Man­age­ment.

Al­though no coun­ties have is­sued manda­tory evac­u­a­tions yet, Daniel said many ar­eas have ad­vised evac­u­a­tion in com­monly flooded ar­eas.

“Sev­eral coun­ties have al­ready sub­mit­ted a ver­bal dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion,” she said.

U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers spokesman Lau­rie Driver said she hopes Arkansans are act­ing now to save their be­long­ings, an­i­mals and lives.

“One of our main con­cerns is mak­ing sure ev­ery­body up and down the river un­der­stands what’s com­ing and that they need to be tak­ing ac­tion of some sort now,” Driver said. “Peo­ple need to be de­cid­ing what things they don’t want to lose. What can you not re­place?”

Hutchin­son di­rected the Arkansas Na­tional Guard to send two 13-man res­cue teams to the western part of the state, where rising river wa­ters have be­gun to pool in cities like Fort Smith.

Hutchin­son said peo­ple should heed evac­u­a­tion or­ders if they are given and urged them to fol­low in­struc­tions from their lo­cal emer­gency of­fices as the wa­ter makes its way down­stream through­out the week­end and next week.

Jan Sloss lives in the Toad Suck com­mu­nity in Perry County and said she doesn’t need a for­mal evac­u­a­tion no­tice to know when to leave. Sloss has been able to throw a rock into the Arkansas River from her back door for more than 18 years, and Fri­day she was hoist­ing the last of her be­long­ings into a friend’s pickup.

“I‘ve lived on the river long enough to know when it’s time to go,” she said. “They don’t have to tell me. I know my marks out here on this river, and I know what’s com­ing.”

Nor­mally when her home is at risk of flood­ing, Sloss said she goes to a friend’s home on higher ground not far down the road. This time, her friend is evac­u­at­ing, too.

“In Jan­uary 2016, [flood­wa­ter] went up and came down quick,” Sloss said. “This will not. It’s go­ing to rise and then it’s go­ing to stay. When the river goes down, my son will bring a cam­per down where I’ll stay un­til we know whether my house is sal­vage­able, but I don’t think it will be.”

Arkansas’ Red Cross di­vi­sion opened a shel­ter in Fort Smith on Fri­day af­ter­noon and said in a state­ment that it has been in con­tact with lo­cal emer­gency of­fi­cials to iden­tify any po­ten­tial emergencie­s.

Hutchin­son’s wa­ter res­cue teams will be sta­tioned in western Arkansas to­day and will fol­low the flood­wa­ters east as more ar­eas ex­pe­ri­ence dam­age.

Driver said the Corps has been for­ti­fy­ing its in­fra­struc­ture and plac­ing sand­bags around equip­ment and build­ings that are ex­pected to flood.

The Corps op­er­ates four of the 44 levee segments in Arkansas. Lo­cal levee boards main­tain 28 other lev­ees, and Driver said a hand­ful of lev­ees are pri­vately op­er­ated.

U.S. Army Corps teams are in­spect­ing their lev­ees and are con­tact­ing all lo­cally op­er­ated lev­ees to en­sure the co­or­di­na­tors know what is com­ing, Driver said. The Corps built 28 of the 44 lev­ees in ex­is­tence back in the 1940s and 1950s, Driver said, and their main­te­nance has been un­der the care of lo­cal levee boards since.

In Fort Smith, where wa­ters are al­ready at flood stage, Se­bas­tian County sher­iff’s of­fice spokesman Capt. Philip Peve­house said mul­ti­ple city parks have closed as well as por­tions of South 66th Street. He said

many creeks in the county will over­flow with back­wa­ter from the Arkansas River, caus­ing wide­spread flood­ing that will likely top sev­eral road­ways.

“Most of the peo­ple who live in those ar­eas know what to do,” Peve­house said. “Our main is­sue is: What if we have to get some­where in an emer­gency?”

The flood­ing is caused in large part by a tor­rent of storms that has plagued north­east Ok­la­homa in re­cent weeks, Na­tional Weather Ser­vice me­te­o­rol­o­gist Brian Smith said.

Driver said the flood re­duc­tion lakes in Ok­la­homa have filled and reached a point where they can no longer safely hold more wa­ter without en­dan­ger­ing the dams there. As a re­sult, large amounts of wa­ter are flow­ing from those reser­voirs into the Arkansas River.

Al­though a high-pres­sure sys­tem is keep­ing most storms at bay for Arkansas, Smith said more rain is in store for Ok­la­homa.

“Un­for­tu­nately we are go­ing to see more rain­fall in Ok­la­homa, still sev­eral ad­di­tional inches to come,” Smith said. “It’s all go­ing to roll this way. It just does not bode well.”

Fore­cast­ers do not pre­dict ma­jor flood­ing in Lit­tle Rock, where the high­est-recorded crest was in 1943 at 34.6 feet. The crest from this in­flux of wa­ter is pre­dicted to be 26.5 feet, about 3 feet above flood stage.

North Lit­tle Rock planned to close sev­eral por­tions of the Arkansas River Trail, city spokesman Nathan Hamil­ton said. The Cook’s Land­ing Park park­ing lot also was set to be closed Fri­day af­ter­noon in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the river rising to at least 15½ feet by this morn­ing, which would put the lot par­tially un­der­wa­ter.

North Lit­tle Rock of­fi­cials said they ex­pected the Arkansas River to rise to 14 or 15 feet Fri­day, to 17 or 18 feet to­day, to 19 or 20 feet Sun­day and up to 22 feet Mon­day, Hamil­ton said.

Lit­tle Rock Parks and Recre­ation Di­rec­tor John Eckart said no park ar­eas on the Lit­tle Rock side of the river would be closed dur­ing Me­mo­rial Day week­end.

Eckart said he will keep in touch with the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers to pre­pare for when wa­ter lev­els are ex­pected to reach their peak June 1, which might re­sult in some mid­week clo­sures.

Sloss, who has evac­u­ated from flood wa­ters be­fore, said she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to live in her river­side home after this. She’ll miss her flow­ers and the peace­ful evenings spent by the wa­ter, but she said she un­der­stands the risk.

“It sure looks like it’s go­ing be worse than they think it’ll be,” she said be­fore pack­ing the last two boxes of her be­long­ings into a truck headed to high ground.

“It’s go­ing to be fine. What­ever hap­pens, I will make my­self fine.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE

Jan Sloss takes a break from mov­ing be­long­ings out of her house near the Arkansas River in Perry County. “I’ve lived on the river long enough to know when it’s time to go,” she said. More pho­tos are avail­able at arkansason­line.com/525flood­prep/

AP/Tulsa World/TOM GIL­BERT

Wa­ter churns into the Arkansas River on Fri­day after U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers be­gan in­creas­ing the re­lease rate on the swollen Key­stone Dam north of Tulsa and on other flood-re­duc­tion lakes. That wa­ter is push­ing into Arkansas, caus­ing a ma­jor flood threat.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STA­TON BREIDENTHA­L

Justin McDou­gal, a North Lit­tle Rock city worker, cuts steel on Fri­day to re­in­force the walk­way to the Arkansas In­land Maritime Mu­seum ahead of the ex­pected rise of the Arkansas River. The mu­seum is closed this week­end and pos­si­bly into next week be­cause of the high wa­ter.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE

Ju­nior Upchurch (left) and Thomas Meares of the Con­way Parks and Recre­ation De­part­ment put up bar­ri­ers Fri­day to close Cadron Set­tle­ment Park as wa­ter con­tin­ues to rise on the Arkansas River.

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