State emergency officials said Tuesday that the Arkansas River has topped two levees in Arkansas, where historic flooding has inundated some communities.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Emergency Management said flood waters overtopped a levee in Toad Suck, a community about 27 miles northwest of Little Rock. The levee protects nearly 300 people.
Department spokeswoman Barbara Hager says officials had warned residents of impending flooding but hadn't implemented mandatory evacuations. She says the flooding will eventually close state highway 60.
Hager said a second levee near mostly farmland in Paris, Arkansas, was also flooded. The area is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock.
Meanwhile, two congressmen visited Fort Smith on Monday to survey some of the damage caused by historic flooding in the area.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack and U.S. Sen. John Boozman visited the Sebastian County Emergency Operations Center in Fort Smith on Monday for a briefing about the flooding along the Arkansas River, followed by a tour of areas in Sebastian and Crawford counties that have been affected by the flooding.
Sebastian County Emergency Management Director Kendall Beam said after the department received a notification on Thursday that the Arkansas River was going to go up to 34 feet, that number has increased ever since. The Arkansas River reached 39.87 feet by 7 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service’s Van Buren gauge. It is predicted to crest at 42.5 feet by Wednesday.
All of that water is heading downriver to Pine Bluff, where the river is expected to rise to levels not seen since 1990. The latest crest prediction is at 49 feet on June 5.
Beam said Sebastian County Emergency Management has worked closely with the city of Fort Smith, with Central City and Lavaca being among the other areas impacted by the flooding.
“We actually got some closures now in Central City and Lavaca,” Beam said. “We got people surrounded by water.”
The Arkansas National Guard also sent high-water rescue teams who are on stand-by, according to Beam.
“We’re going to probably start using them very quickly,” Beam said. “The only saving grace for this whole flood is the slow rise of it, and that has got the citizens to where they can either stay or go, okay?”
While some homes are higher than the floodwater, Beam said others are underwater.
Beam said the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management has been sending him everything he has asked for, “and then some.” Sebastian County Emergency Management has currently used 140,000 sandbags, 1,500 tons of sand and 300 tons of crusher dust after running out of sand. The department is also getting checks every four hours on the levees around the city and county.
Fort Smith Communication Director Karen Santos said in a Monday news release the National Weather Service is forecasting significant rainfall in Fort Smith over the next few days. Residents and property owners in the downstream portions of the May Branch and Town Branch drainage basins should remain on alert for an increased chance of flash flooding.
“Due to the record-setting high levels of the flooded Arkansas River, the main storm sewer outfall for these systems must be pumped instead of flowing directly into the river,” Santos said. “This required pumping greatly reduces the flow capacity of the storm sewer system, which may result in flash flooding from local rainfall.”
Santos said residents and property owners in close proximity to areas already experiencing backwater flooding from the Arkansas River will also need to be alert for flash flooding. The flow capacity of the storm sewer system is reduced where backwater from the river has filled the system, which may also result in flash flooding from the expected precipitation.
“We’re nearing a critical time as the river approaches crest and all surrounding waters have significantly overspread their banks, but storms and clouds are about to bring us more rainfall,” Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said in the release. “While it might not be a huge amount, even a drop now seems huge.”
Santos asked residents to set their smartphones or other devices to receive National Weather Service alerts and their Fort Smith Police Department mobile app to receive alerts as well. She also asked them to ensure their weather radios have fresh batteries or are plugged in, to closely monitor local news outlets over the next few days, and to take their mobile devices with them when they go out, among other things.
“Be aware of your surroundings and respect how quickly flash flooding can occur,” Santos said. “Definitely remember: don’t drown, turn around. Never drive through floodwaters.”
A post on the Fort Smith Public Schools Facebook page states due to the effects of the flooding, as well as the flash flooding being forecast for today and Wednesday, schools are closed and school district operations are suspended today, Wednesday and Thursday. School activities involving district transportation are canceled as well.
A Monday news release from the American Red Cross states the organization has Evangel Temple at 1110 S. 12th St. in Fort Smith open as a shelter location in response to the flooding. Identification and/or proof of residency is not required to be admitted to a Red Cross shelter. Individuals and families are encouraged to bring clothing for a few days, bedding, toiletries, essential medication and items for their children, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, with them.