The Arkansas River at Pine Bluff stood at around 50 feet on Tuesday, more than 8 feet above flood stage. It’s on its way to a 51-foot crest June 5. That’s just a foot shy of the all-time record. Forecasters at the National Weather Service had initially said that the river would crest on June 6.

A mandatory evacuation order has also been issued for many areas along the river. Click here for more on the evacuation effort.

As many as 550 homes in Jefferson County could be affected by floodwaters. Many residences in the Island Harbor and Riverside Drive areas are already inundated.

Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson said that his office has been “in constant contact with the Corps of Engineers and National Weather Service regarding the flood. We realize that up above us that Yell County had a breach in the levee system. At this point, we do not know what that will do as far as what happens here in Jefferson County.”

Robinson also said that “the local agencies have been working diligently to correct some issues with areas of concern as far as breaks in our levee system, which at this time are being repaired. Some have already been completed. The latest endeavor will probably be completed around 8 p.m. on Friday night.”

The judge continued: “We have worked hard with state and local agencies to coordinate so we will be somewhat prepared for what is to come. The efforts we have made are preparing for the worst, and we are hoping for the best and hoping it is not as bad as it is projected. We have worked hard with the City of Pine Bluff, the Corps of Engineers, and all of the state agencies that have been involved so we can keep our residents safe here in Jefferson County.

“When we say breaks, they are breaks that are operational. We have identified gaps which are at the railroad at the port where they use these gaps to conduct their business. These were planned many, many years ago, so that if this happened they have to stop their operations and repair those gaps so that water wouldn’t come into Pine Bluff. These were man-made gaps for operating purposes for businesses at the port. These are man-made gaps that we knew if something happened and the river overflowed, we would have to close these gaps.”

Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said the Port of Pine Bluff is dry for now, but some flooding will occur when the river reaches 49 feet and above.

She said she has advised industries at the port to evacuate any valuable machinery ahead of the floodwaters.

“We are just watching and praying that it doesn’t get any worse,” Nisbett said.

Robinson said there are four areas being watched closely.

“One being on Port Road – one at the (Union Pacific) Railroad and one at the port section (of the levee),” the judge said. “They have since been filled and taken care of. The last one we had was the Louis Ramsey Access that is being repaired at this time and should be finished by 8 p.m. (Friday).”

UAPB area gap – Caney Bayou runoff

Robinson said: “It is not so much as a gap, but it is an area that we are watching. We are taking a look at it right now. There was a little seepage, but we are on top of getting that taken care of. It is not so much of a levee gap, but a culvert drain that we are on top of.”

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander issued a statement about the flooding late Friday afternoon.

“To aid our campus preparedness, we have been monitoring the situation along with local officials in the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management,” Alexander said.

“Within the last 24 hours, UAPB has been included in the area likely to receive some flooding late next week if the Arkansas River crests above the projected level of 51 feet.

“The latest prediction of the river cresting would cause the Lake Saracen to overflow its shoreline. In this scenario, we cannot be certain whether or not there will be flooding on the campus. However, the prudent thing to do at this time is to prepare for the possibility of flooding, especially on low lying areas.”

Alexander said that UAPB is “asking all of you to make plans in your work areas of moving important, equipment, materials, files, and other important records and documents to upper floors in your building or department so they will be secured and safe from the possibility of flood waters. We hope that we do not lose our communications network during this or any other disaster. But if that should occur, we will need to rely on communicating university information through an alternative method — through a chain-of-command direct contact over the telephone with managers and supervisors. Thus we are asking managers to assure that they have contact information for their employees who report directly to them.

“UAPB employees who are personally affected by the flooding should notify their supervisors as soon as possible. We will make every effort to assist them and other area residents during this difficult time. We encourage everyone to stay tuned to the news reports for more information and updates. Also, make sure you are registered for the RAVE Alert System. You can find the link at the bottom of the main university web page under the ‘Faculty and Staff’ heading.”

Will the levees hold?

Robinson said he is “very confident in the repairing of the breaks. Myself and my road superintendent went out and inspected some of the repairs, especially the ones done by Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel and by the railroad, and they were very sturdy. They were doing a great job. They were persistent on them and I’m very confident that they will hold.”

Other areas of concern

Robinson said that “We have visited the Redfield area, which has Tar Camp, and Tar Camp is in pretty bad shape. The Wright-Pastoria area is in pretty bad shape. Island Harbor is, in my eyes, horrific to see. We are hoping that we have done a good enough job that we won’t have the same kind of thing here in Pine Bluff. It is moving fast. It is moving faster than I have ever seen before. I’ve never seen the river moving as fast as it has and doing the damage that it is doing.

Like Robinson, Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said her office is “constantly touching base with the Corp of Engineers and our Street Department manager who keeps an eye on them. I think with the monitoring we are doing and with the repairs we have made, hopefully they will hold. That is all we can do is hope and pray that they hold.”

Washington said that she wants to make sure that residents receive the proper alerts and are aware in case water does overtop levees.

“We have been moving through the communities making sure everyone knows what is going on and that they are in a prepared to move mode,” she said. “We trust and pray that they will hold up.”