Swollen White River threatens rural areas after storms whipped Midwest
Dustin Wadkins, left, and Trey Newby, right, check out Newby's grandfather's flooded home, outside of Des Arc, Ark., on Monday.
DES ARC, Ark. - Emergency management officials began evacuating communities along the White River in east-central Arkansas on Tuesday because a rural levee showed signs of weakening amid the region's prolonged flooding. Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Management, said he didn't know how many people lived in the area, north of Interstate 40 in Prairie County. "The levee hasn't breached, but it is stressed," Jackson said.
An American flag is covered by flood waters in a rural neighborhood outside of Des Arc, Ark., Monday, March 24, 2008.
Elsewhere in Arkansas, teams of state and federal officials were preparing Tuesday to examine flood-damaged buildings and businesses. Bob Alvey, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he expected nine teams to spread across counties in northwest Arkansas first, then move to Arkansas' prairie, where the White River is threatening communities. "We're hitting areas we can get to because a lot of areas we can't get to," Alvey said Tuesday morning. State and federal officials planned an afternoon news conference Tuesday to provide an update on damages. The White River swelled after last week's storms that devastated large parts of the Midwest. The river had risen about 7 feet in four days at Des Arc and was expected to crest Tuesday afternoon at 33.5 feet, the National Weather Service estimated. On Monday, water poured into Bayou Des Arc, an area just north of the town of 1,900, damaging scattered homes and cabins. "It's the worst," Trey Newby, 17, said as he piloted a small boat with an outboard motor through the brown water in an RV park along Bayou Des Arc. Downtown Des Arc is on a rise and was not in immediate danger. Last week's torrential rain also caused flooding in parts of Ohio, Indiana and southern Illinois, and in wide areas of Missouri. At least 17 deaths have been linked to the weather.
Although wide areas of Missouri were especially hard-hit, the city of Cape Girardeau, which had record flooding in 1993, narrowly escaped serious problems this time. The Mississippi River crested there early Monday at 41.04 feet, a foot shy of the level that causes serious flooding, the Weather Service said. Flood gates protecting the city's business district were closed Monday and will stay closed until the river drops to below 36 feet. There was some minor flooding Monday in Cape Girardeau's northeast section. River towns south of the point where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet at Cairo, Ill., could see flooding in the next few days.
The Mississippi River is expected to crest Thursday at 42 feet at New Madrid, Mo., an hour south of Cape Girardeau, and at 41 feet Friday in Caruthersville, Mo., enough to cause moderate flooding in both areas, meteorologists said. The river was already at 38.4 feet Monday â€” more than 6 feet above flood stage â€” at Caruthersville, Coast Guard spokesman Dan Norton said.
Farther downstream, the Mississippi River is expected to top flood stage of 43 feet Wednesday at Vicksburg, Miss., and continue up to a crest of 46 feet on April 4, the weather service said. On April 5, the river is likely to crest at 53.5 feet at Natchez, Miss. When the river reaches 50 feet there, water will reach a street in the historic Natchez-Under-the-Hill section, Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said. The last time water reached Silver Street was in 2003.