Levees Strained as Arkansas River Stays at Record Levels


Levees Strained as Arkansas River Stays at Record Levels
The swollen Arkansas River at Riverfront Park in Little Rock on Wednesday afternoon. Rising floodwaters in Oklahoma and the Fort Smith area continue to roll downstream, causing record water levels and threatening homes and farmland. (Lance Turner)

FORT SMITH — The Arkansas River held steady at record levels Thursday morning, putting enormous pressure on aging levees and offering little relief to areas enduring historic flooding.

In Fort Smith, Arkansas' second-largest city, officials expected hundreds of homes to flood, while in nearby Van Buren, officials warned that a levee protecting a mostly rural area was "showing signs of significant leakage and deterioration." And across the border in Oklahoma's Muskogee County, the conditions have already prompted the evacuations of more than 2,400 people and flooded nearly 1,100 homes, according to the local emergency management department.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker activated the National Guard to respond to recent severe flooding.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that more than 400 homes have been voluntarily evacuated because of the flooding. The Republican said he directed another $250,000 in state funds toward the flood response and requested federal assistance from the Trump administration.

At least one death in Arkansas has been blamed on the flooding.

"This is a flood of historic magnitude. It surpasses all Arkansas River flooding in our recorded history," Hutchinson said Wednesday at a news conference with state emergency officials. "That should be enough to get everybody's attention."

The rush of water was hitting Arkansas as the Army Corps of Engineers releases water from a hydroelectric dam northwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to help drain the swollen Keystone Lake reservoir. The reservoir drains a watershed of more than 22,000 square miles (57,000 square kilometers) in areas of northeastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas that have been hit by heavy rain.

The Corps said Wednesday that the releases would be reduced by Saturday to 150,000 cubic feet per second (4,247 cubic meters). Officials said that measure would help the floodwaters begin to recede but that it would take days, if not weeks.

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