After floodwaters punched through levees in parts of Missouri and Arkansas, the National Weather Service warned Thursday of more high water in northwest Arkansas, where some 100 members of the National Guard are assisting in the flood-fighting effort.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said 25 guard vehicles are prepared for high-water rescues as needed in an area where at least nine levee breaches have been reported.
Many rivers have swollen to record levels in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Five deaths have been blamed on flooding in Missouri, while hundreds of people have been forced out of their homes and thousands more are potentially in harm’s way. An 18-month-old Arkansas girl swept away by floodwater is missing and presumed dead.
Two levees burst in rural parts of eastern Missouri and northeast Arkansas early Wednesday, though no injuries or major property damage were immediately reported. Another levee was soaked but holding up, as were tens of thousands of sandbags, in other areas near suburban St. Louis.
Authorities halted river traffic along a 14.5-mile stretch of the Mississippi, a vital passageway for transporting agricultural products and other goods, because of high water and a swift current, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. “Our collective priority is public safety,” said Capt. Martin Malloy, commander of the Coast Guard’s Upper Mississippi River sector.
In Arkansas’ Lawrence County, where high water breached nine sections of a levee system along the Black River, floods shut down U.S. Highway 63 and officials urged residents to evacuate quickly ahead of the rising waters.
Although the breaches helped divert some of the threat from the city of Pocahontas, Ark., areas south of the town were again expecting more high water. In Portia, Ark., about 20 miles downriver from Pocahontas, Mayor Kelly Duckworth awaited the worst.
“We’re surrounded by water,” Duckworth said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “The water is rising 1 foot an hour. We don’t know what to expect.”
In Missouri, a small levee breach along the Missouri River flooded farmland southwest of St. Louis, but also relieved pressure on some downriver towns.
Still, hundreds of residents in such downriver towns as West Alton, about 20 miles north of St. Louis, were urged to leave their homes. Residents of the levee-protected part of Valley Park, Mo., are to return home Friday.
In nearby Eureka, southwest of St. Louis, 250,000 sandbags filled by 2,000 volunteers over a three-day period also held up against the raging water, making the flood far less damaging than a similar flood in December 2015.
“We were able to save a lot a lot of homes and businesses that before we lost,” Eureka Mayor Kevin Coffey said.
But problems persist on the Mississippi River. A 14.5-mile stretch remains closed at St. Louis. A bridge is closed at Chester, Ill. And sandbagging volunteers are trying to protect homes in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
The Mississippi is expected to crest over the next couple of days at St. Louis and to the south.
Contributing: Associated Press