‘Slow-motion disaster’ along Arkansas River: Every large community will see major flooding within 7-10 days
Doug Stanglin and Doyle Rice. USA TODAY•May 29, 2019
Every large community along the Arkansas River will see major or record flooding within the next week to 10 days as swift-moving water from weeks of heavy rain challenges Arkansas’ aging levee system, the National Weather Service said Wednesday.
Worse, more heavy rain is on the way.
Arkansas is not alone. Record flooding is also creating havoc in Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and northeast Oklahoma, both from locally heavy rainfall and from swollen rivers bringing water south from the north-central U.S.
Eight states along the Mississippi have seen the longest period of flooding since the Great Flood of 1927, according to the NWS. The river has been at flood stage in Baton Rouge since January as snowmelt and rainfall waters make their way downstream.
One death in Arkansas has been attributed to the floods. Police said a 64-year-old victim apparently ignored a barricade and drove his minivan into floodwaters near the main gate at Fort Chaffee near Fort Smith.
The Arkansas River, swollen from water released upriver in Oklahoma, is expected to crest Wednesday near Fort Smith, Arkansas, at 41 feet, well above the previous record of 38.1 feet.
The weather forecast offers scant hope for relief: Severe thunderstorms were predicted for the Fort Smith area both Wednesday and Thursday.
The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said floodwaters had already overwhelmed a levee in Logan County, in an area of mostly farmland, and one in Perry County, at the unincorporated town of Toad Suck.
In Van Buren, Arkansas, police Chief Jamie Hammond warned residents in the most vulnerable areas not only of potential flooding, but also of snakes and other dangerous animals fleeing the rising water.
“Those critters don’t have anywhere to go, so they go to dry land. Unfortunately, that’s in the city,” Hammond said, according to the Fort Smith Times Record.
In Little Rock, Pulaski County officials closed the Big Dam Bridge while the U.S. Corps of Engineers fortified the lock and dam beneath the bridge against rising floodwaters, said Laurie Driver, a spokeswoman for the Corps.
“The structures on the Arkansas River in Arkansas are not built to hold back floodwaters,” Driver said, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported. “They’re there to hold back water in low-water conditions to ensure we have a 9-foot channel for barge traffic.”
In Fort Smith, where some homes have already been flooded, officials shut down two bridges over the Arkansas River and closed schools through Thursday.
Water was already creeping into homes in Pine Bluff along the river, inching higher hour by hour.
“It’s a slow-motion disaster,” said Constable Steve Tidwell of nearby Spring Township, according to ArkansasOnline. “It’s taking a long time to rise, and it’ll take a long time to fall.”
The mayor of Tulsa said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to continue releasing 275,000 cubic feet of water per second to help drain the swollen Keystone Lake reservoir. Mayor G.T. Bynum said on his Facebook page that the number could increase, depending on the rainfall.
While expressing confidence that a 70-year-old levee system would protect Sand Springs and west Tulsa, he strongly urged residents to evacuate vulnerable areas along the 20-mile system voluntarily.
“The levees have never been tested like this, and if anything were to go wrong the amount of time to evacuate could be minutes rather than hours,“ he warned.
As a sign of concern, an Oklahoma National Guard helicopter has dropped sandbags north of west Tulsa to shore up a seeping spot along the levee.
After eyeballing the levee, Vernon Ramsey was among some 80 people seeking shelter at the Crosstown Church of Christ, one of many Red Cross shelters opened in the city.
“The way I see it, there’s a 79-year-old man holding that water back. And I know with my age, I’m not as strong as I used to be,” Ramsey told KTUL.
Adding to the headaches, the National Weather Service forecasts up to three inches of rain in some parts of the state through Thursday, and warns of a “potential for catastrophic flooding” in areas near the Arkansas River channel.
Floodwaters have swamped 860 square miles north of Vicksburg, which is perched on a bluff above the Mississippi River. Unlike other states, where water from the Mississippi or Arkansas rivers spill into adjoining land, the Vicksburg area flooding is caused by keeping floodgates on the Mississippi closed, blocking water pouring into the south end of the Delta region from entering the big river.
Current forecasts suggest the water won’t drain significantly from the backwater area in Mississippi until July at the earliest.
In Louisiana, where the Mississippi has been at flood stage since January, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is meeting this week with residents of Butte La Rose and Morgan City who face potential floods with the opening of the Morganza Spillway on Sunday.
The rare move, which has occurred only twice in more than 60 years to relieve pressure on the Mississippi, will inundate tens of thousand of acres of the Atchafalaya River Basin.
Categories: Extreme Flooding