After a slow climb to a near-record at Pine Bluff, the Arkansas River finally began cresting Thursday evening, according to the National Weather Service. The official crest will be at around 51 feet, just shy of the all-time record of 52.1 feet set in 1943.
The crest date has wavered as the river has raged downstream over the past two weeks. It’s already crested at Van Buren, Ozark, Dardanelle, Morrilton, Toad Suck and Little Rock, where levels are now falling.
Dardanelle was especially hard-hit, and one death was reported in Yell County as a result of the flooding.
Meanwhile, Jefferson County emergency officials are closely monitoring area levees, including the one on Port Road. Just north of there, residents of Island Harbor and other locations near the river are waiting to get back into their homes.
A mandatory evacuation has been put into place for the harbor, Wright-Pastoria and about a dozen other locations along the waterway. More than 500 homes are inundated with floodwaters.
Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson said he and other county officials are concerned about what will happen over the next few days, particularly with the levee system.
He said the levees are being constantly monitored because they have never seen the volume of water or flow that currently exists. On Thursday, workers were building a temporary levee near the entrance to Port Road along U.S. 79B because there was reportedly a crack in the main levee there.
“We’re in a wait and see position,” Robinson said. “I’m very confident that the levees will hold, but whatever adjustments we need to make, we will make.”
Asked specifically about the Port Road levee, which holds water back from Packing Town and other areas of the city's northeast section, Robinson said it is “holding pretty good right now. We’re constantly monitoring it but it will always be a concern because if it breaches it could flood Packing Town and the Broadmoor area, but we’re keeping a close eye on it.”
Upstream in Faulkner County, residents along Lake Conway are warned to stay alert of rising waters in the area. While the Arkansas River has crested at the Toad Suck Lock and Dam, those living along the lake are still feeling the effects of the flooding event as Lake Conway continues rising with waters from Palarm Creek moving in.
Current forecasts indicate the lake likely will rise 5 feet above normal pool by Friday.
“Lake Conway has exceeded the flood stage of 266 feet mean sea level, and is still rising,” Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens said, adding that those in the area who have experience flooding in the past 10 years should prepare themselves.
“Those living in close proximity to Lake Conway should take immediate action to protect themselves and property from flood damage,” he said.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission expects areas around Lake Conway to continue flooding throughout the week as rains head into Faulkner County.
As rainfall heads into the county in the coming days, officials believe the Lake Conway area may be “drastically” affected because they are unable to drain runoff due to the flooding downstream.