March 24, 2008 — -- Neglected Arkansas levees proved no match for torrential rains that are poised to cause the worst flooding the state has seen in a quarter century.
The Black River sliced through a 60-year-old levee before emergency workers could stem the tide with a mountain of sandbags Saturday, according to The Associated Press.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared 35 counties disaster areas and forecasters warned residents along the White River, despite minimal rain in the forecast.
"You may be wondering why we issued a flash flood watch in eastern Arkansas when there is little to no rain in the forecast," John Robinson of the National Weather Service in North Little Rock wrote Sunday in an e-mail to reporters, according to the AP. "There will be water going into areas where people have not seen it before, and may not be expecting to see high water."
Officials warned that the Black and White rivers may not crest until Wednesday and that it remains too dangerous for many residents to return to their evacuated homes.
"It's kind of hard when things happen so fast. You cannot think, but we have our lives and I guess that is the most important thing," said 72-year-old Clara Gabrielsen, who had to be evacuated from her nursing home because of the flooding.
Many residents were forced to leave with little time to prepare.
"It was pretty hectic when we saw the water coming up. We didn't have time to get anything," said Arkansas flood victim Tom Honeycut.
Arkansas emergency management officials have said early estimates for statewide damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure were at $2 million, though that figure was expected to grow, according to the AP.
So far one person is missing in the state because of the floods.
Arkansas isn't the only region seeing flood-related problems. Last week rains submerged parts of the Midwest and this week, though the rains may have ceased, the rivers continue cresting and causing massive damage.
The destruction has been staggering, like near St. Louis where waters swallowed intersections and fierce floods swept homes off their foundations. The rushing waters even carried off one home and smashed it into a bridge.
Thousands of Missouri residents fled to Red Cross shelters and last week's flooding also affected parts of Ohio and southern Illinois.
Towns south of where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet in Cairo, Ill., braced for flooding expected in the next couple of days, according to the AP.
"They're not going down yet," John Campbell, operations chief at Missouri's State Emergency Management Agency, told the AP. "They're still rising."
Farther north where rivers are receding, many families are returning home to see what is left.
"We found people's family pictures in our yard yesterday. It's very hard," said Missouri flood victim Jane Nantz.
At least 17 deaths have been attributed to the flooding, wet roads and other weather conditions.
For information on emergency services in Arkansas, contact the Department of Emergency Management and assess your area's flood risk by going to the National Weather Service hydrological prediction map.