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Historic flooding predicted along Arkansas River

Volunteers fill sand bags at the soccer field parking lot in Chaffee Crossing, Ark., Saturday, May 25, 2019, for distribution throughout the area for flood prone areas around homes. (Jamie Mitchell/The Southwest Times Record via AP)

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Residents in parts of Arkansas were preparing for what meteorologists on Sunday predicted will be the worst flooding in recorded history along parts of the Arkansas River over the coming week.

The National Weather Service said in the statement that levee “over topping” is likely with “significant impacts to life and property across a very large area.”

The Arkansas River reached 38.2 feet (11.6 meters) on Sunday near Fort Smith, Arkansas, surpassing the historic crest of 38.1 (11.6) feet in April 1945.

Spokeswoman Karen Santos said the city of 80,000 residents that’s on the border with Oklahoma was in “preparedness and warning mode.” She said one home was completely submerged and about 500 homes either have water very close or in them. Authorities predict hundreds more homes and businesses will flood by the time the river crests there Tuesday at 42.5 feet (13 meters).

Across the river from Fort Smith, the tiny town of Moffett, Oklahoma, population about 120, was submerged by Saturday afternoon, Sequoyah County Emergency Management Director Steve Rutherford told the Times Record in Fort Smith.

In downtown Van Buren, Arkansas, just northeast of Fort Smith, Rickey Jones, co-owner of BrokenJoe’s Screen Printing, was among several business owners who put sandbags in front of their entrances.

“We’re going to be stacking things as high as we can in here, taking out electronics and helping out our neighbors,” Jones said.

On Sunday afternoon, a National Guard helicopter was sent to rescue two Army Corps of Engineers workers who had become trapped in a building as the Arkansas River rose, said Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Melody Daniel.

“The river had risen and spread to a point where the lock and dam building itself was no longer accessible by boat or road,” said Daniel, who took video of the rescue at the Trimble Lock and Dam, located on the county line of Crawford and Sebastian counties.

She said there were also several road closures due to high water.

The water flowing into the Arkansas River has come from rains in southeast Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma, said National Weather Service meteorologist Willie Gilmore.

“All that water funneled down into the tributaries that go into the Arkansas River,” Gilmore said.

In Tulsa, authorities advised residents of some neighborhoods on Sunday to consider leaving for higher ground because the river is stressing the city’s old levee system.

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