River floods low-lying areas in Arkansas

March 24, 2008 6:10:33 PM PDT
Muddy water rose to the middle of front doors Monday as a historic flood crest flowed southward on the White River through communities in the state's eastern prairie. The river, swollen by storms that devastated large parts of the Midwest, had risen about 7 feet in four days, with a crest of 33.5 feet expected Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service estimated.

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. He and a friend pointed to a pole and a U.S. flag hanging partially in the water.

"That's probably 10, 15 feet off the ground right there," Newby said.

A flash flood warning was in effect through Tuesday morning for communities along the White River. The Weather Service said it could be the river's largest water surge in a quarter-century.

Prairie County Sheriff Gary Burnett, a lifelong resident of the area, said he had never seen the river flood so quickly.

"It came up just so fast," said Burnett, 37. "I'd never seen it come up so fast."

No flood-related injuries had been reported, Burnett said.

Downtown Des Arc is on a rise and was not in immediate danger.

Just south of town and beyond a levee, Rick Thompson, 38, stood looking at his flooded mobile home. He said he had no flood insurance and had yet to go inside.

"I'm going to come back with my boat and get my pictures and Bibles and things like that out of there and pray on the rest of it," Thompson said.

Last week's torrential rain in the Midwest 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 and thousands of people had evacuated, most of them in Missouri.

David Maxwell, the Arkansas emergency management director, said state and federal emergency workers would visit flood-damaged areas of the state Tuesday. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has declared 35 counties disaster areas.

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 signals 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.

Rain is forecast in the region Wednesday and could produce localized flooding. "There'll be a lot of runoff in creeks and smaller tributaries again, but there's not much of a place to drain into with the rivers running so high," said Mary Lamm, a Weather Service hydrologist in Paducah, Ky.

--- Associated Press writer Cheryl Wittenauer in Pacific, Mo., contributed to this report.


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