The Arkansas River neared a historic crest Wednesday in Arkansas' second-largest city, but officials said the levee system was "performing admirably" from the rush of water coming downstream from rain-soaked Oklahoma and Kansas.
Still, the river was nearly twice the level it was 10 days ago, widespread flooding persisted in Fort Smith, and heavy rainfall was expected to make matters worse. Forecasters said flash flooding could be severe because the excess water has nowhere to drain.
"Just because the river has crested doesn't mean we're out of danger," said Col. Bob Dixon of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In the meantime, people along the river in Jefferson County are watching and waiting for the anticipated crest of 49 feet on June 5. Flood stage here is 42 feet.
On Wednesday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson addressed the state on the flooding situation. He praised emergency responders from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, the Arkansas National Guard and other agencies.
One person has died in the flooding.
Barling police Officer James Breeden said a dive team was sent about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday after a submerged van was reported at a gate to the Army National Guard post on Arkansas 22. That's about 8 miles southeast of Fort Smith.
The divers found the body of a man inside. Barling police Sgt. Keith Lindley said investigators believe the man had driven around a barrier set up on the flooded highway and drove into the floodwater.
The governor said that more than 400 homes have been voluntarily evacuated because of flooding.
Hutchinson said he directed another $250,000 in state funds toward the flood response. The Republican said he has also requested federal assistance from the Trump administration.
Hutchinson last week directed $100,000 in state funds toward the flood's response.
Hutchinson said the flooding is of "historic magnitude" and is straining the levee system along the river.
Thunderstorms are expected to bring unwanted rain to areas along the river, which was predicted to crest Wednesday well above record levels in western Arkansas and remain at that level through the week.
Dixon said that the levee ystem is "performing admirably,” adding that the levee system will be strained as the rush of water moves downstream. He said floodwaters should begin to slowly recede in Fort Smith, but that it will likely take weeks.
Hutchinson urged all residents who live near the river to “heed the admonishment of emergency managers and law enforcement if they say there is a need to evacuate. Don’t be stubborn. We have had more than 400 homes evacuated voluntarily.
“Don’t go around barriers. There is a reason for them. The river is a beautiful site until it comes to get you.”
Hutchinson said that Tennessee and Missouri have offered equipment to Arkansas to help with flooding mitigation and recovery efforts.
“In addition to sandbag and air and group support, the Civil Air Patrol has been engaged,” Hutchinson said. “I will tour the areas along the river on Thursday that are flooding and start doing preliminary assessments and view damage. This is a flood of historic magnitude. It surpasses all Arkansas River flooding in our recorded history. That should be enough to get everybody’s attention.”