The Heat Is Online

Record Midwest Flooding Leaves At Least 19 Dead

Arkansas floods a federal disaster

White River still rising, causing at least one levee to leak


The Associated Press, March. 27, 2008


CLARENDON, Ark. - Residents along part of the already flooding White River were told to expect waters to rise about a foot day over the next few days, while President Bush provided some relief by declaring federal disaster areas in 35 counties hit over the last week.


Authorities warned small communities and cabin dwellers along the White River National Wildlife Refuge that they will soon be affected by rising waters that have flooded more than half the state.


Hydrologist Steve Bays of the National Weather Service said Thursday that residents are going to see a foot a day rise. The refuge is located in the floodplain of the White River near where it meets the Mississippi.


One thing that we are trying to do around here is keep people concerned about whats going on but not inflict a panic, and its a fine line. It certainly bears monitoring by people along the river, Bays said.


Bays said there were too many variables to predict what will happen when the crest in the White River meets the Mississippi on Arkansas eastern border. While rain is forecast, it might not be as heavy and might be slower moving than the storms last week that brought on the current conditions.


At St. Charles on Thursday morning, the White River was at 29.3 feet, about a foot higher than a year ago. Bays guessed the river would reach 33-35 feet by late this weekend or early next week, near the 36.5-foot level during floods in 1973.


Its certainly going to be several feet above what causes some problems, Bays said.


Thursday morning, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for points along the White River downstream from Des Arc.

Water will remain on some roads and highways and in some homes into mid-April, as well as cover cropland into May or beyond, Bays said.


"The river's going to be out of its banks for a prolonged period of time," he added.


Levee springs leaks


Outside of Des Arc, water from the White River began springing up in new places Wednesday along a rural levee north of Interstate 40. The day before, volunteers used sandbags to hold back the "sand boils"  muddy springs that develop when water passes underneath the earthen barriers.


Loy Hamilton, area commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' effort on the White River, said workers on Wednesday put 50-gallon barrels on top of the teapot-size sand boils to build pressure to staunch the flow.


"Right now, they're all flowing clear, which is ideal," Hamilton said, explaining that seeing silt in the water would mean the levee is being degraded from beneath. "If you shut it off, it just forces it around to another hole."


The levee will remain under 24-hour watch as long as the waters remain high, Hamilton said.


Heavy rains filled major rivers in northern Arkansas early last week, flooding communities as the water moved downstream. One person remains missing after the storms.


Gov. Mike Beebe declared 39 counties  more than half the state  disaster areas, while Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for 35 counties on Wednesday that provides access to federal funds.


Double trouble?


Residents and county officials along the river's path in east-central Arkansas worried that the river flows would hit an already swollen Mississippi River on the state's eastern border and flow back into their cotton and wheat fields.


"I don't think anybody knows how much higher it's going to get," Monroe County resident Marlin Reeves said as overcast skies threatened rain. Forecasters predicted a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms hitting the Arkansas prairie by Friday.


At Maddox Bay in Monroe County, Reeves, 67, used a small tractor to pile sand in the front yard of his home along the old White River. In its present-day channel, the swollen river moved along the opposite side of a pine-covered island visible from Reeves' backyard. Already, river water flooded into other yards and homes down the gravel road from Reeves' house.


Sand that Reeves got several days ago filled six bags piled against his front door.


Monroe County Judge Larry Morris, chief administrator in the county of about 11,300 people, said he feared the flooding would cut off roads to the area.


The county printed yellow-and-red flyers to distribute to residents, urging them to leave or to have enough food to last "at LEAST two weeks."


Wheat farmers already were reporting damage from the water, Morris said.


Recent heavy rains also flooded parts of Ohio, Indiana, southern Illinois and wide areas of Missouri. The weather has been linked to at least 17 deaths.


Controversy in Missouri


In Missouri, the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday it stopped the release of extra water into the Missouri River below Kansas City, citing residents worried about more flooding.


The corps said it began holding back releases from tributary dams in the lower Missouri on Wednesday. That move effectively negates releases already put in motion from Gavins Point Dam in Yankton, S.D.


The move will still provide a pulse of higher water needed to prompt spawning of an endangered fish, the corps said.


State leaders wanted the release stopped, citing a risk of more flooding, and after losing a court effort to stop it they asked President Bush to step in.


The White House said the corps is complying with a long-standing supervised plan and is monitoring weather and river conditions closely. It said the corps would not have conducted the release if it endangered the public.


Meanwhile, the Mississippi River was rising more slowly than had been forecast at Vicksburg, Miss.


The Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center had expected the river to reach flood stage of 43 feet by Wednesday, but its latest prediction is that it will happen Saturday. The latest crest prediction is 45 1/2 feet on April 4, down from an earlier forecast of 46 feet.

Some areas of Vicksburg and Warren County already are taking on water, and others will flood if the crest forecast proves correct.


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.


Water still rising in eastern Arkansas

Officials begin to assess damage; nearly half of state declared disaster area


The Associated Press, March. 26, 2008


SAND HILL, Ark. - Despite sunny skies, water continued to rise Wednesday in eastern Arkansas, where federal officials have begun to gather their first damage assessments in the week-long floods that have displaced residents and soaked homes and businesses in

nearly half the state.


The White River is higher than it has been in a quarter century, flooding properties and farmland. The river is expected to crest early Friday at Clarendon at 6.5 feet above flood stage.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency collected reports Wednesday morning from field workers who fanned out the previous day to determine the scope of damage where the waters have receded.


"We are getting a snapshot of damages within a county," FEMA spokesman Bob Alvey said. "The idea is to get information to Gov. Mike Beebe quickly so he can proceed with further requests for federal assistance for infrastructure repairs and for help for individuals.


Volunteers hold back levee


On Tuesday, flood waters near Des Arc reached homes and businesses and pressured levees along the White River.


The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning Tuesday morning for rural Prairie County north of Interstate 40 after spotters noticed the levee had "sand boils"  water passing under the earthen barrier and appearing on the side like a muddy spring. By the afternoon, 100 volunteers held back the flow by building sandbag barriers for the water to be held in, creating pressure to stem the tide.


Thomas "Babe" Vincent, a levee district board member, praised the spirit of the volunteers.


"We've had people here today from the other side of the river who aren't in danger," Vincent said.


After heavy rains last week, major rivers overflowed their banks, inundating north and central Arkansas and driving people from their homes and businesses. Almost half the state  35 counties  was declared a disaster area.


'Devastating' flooding


Beebe, on hand to visit some volunteers at the levee, described seeing the "devastating" flooding from the air on a recent helicopter trip across the state.


"It looked like just a solid lake from Batesville to Newport  you couldn't tell where the river was," the governor said.


Teams of state and federal officials were deployed Tuesday to examine flood-damaged buildings and businesses. Officials first put damages at $2 million, but said it would likely rise well above that once the waters recede.


Meanwhile, residents in east-central Arkansas did what little they could while waiting for flood waters to subside.


Donald Holland and his wife moved three goats and nine chickens to higher ground but were having trouble finding their turkeys. Holland was so distracted he forgot it was his 68th birthday Tuesday.


"The water's about a foot deep around my trailer," Holland said. "I've got my boat tied up to my front porch."


Mississippi River dispute


Meanwhile, a federal judge in St. Louis and a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused Tuesday to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from raising water levels on the Missouri River this week. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon sued Monday seeking to stop the action, claiming it could add to downstream flooding.


The corps usually releases extra water in March, and again in May, to prompt spawning of the endangered pallid sturgeon.


John Paul Woodley, the Pentagon's assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said Tuesday that the corps planned to release water at midnight unless its forecasts changed. The agency's modeling shows that water levels in flooded areas will drop by the time the release reaches them, he said.


"We would not release water to Missouri or any other state if we felt it would cause a likelihood of flooding," Woodley said.


© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved


Flooding in Arkansas weakens levee

Swollen White River threatens rural areas after storms whipped Midwest


The Associated Press, March. 25, 2008


DES ARC, Ark. - Emergency management officials began evacuating communities along the White River in east-central Arkansas on Tuesday because a rural levee showed signs of weakening amid the region's prolonged flooding.


Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Management, said he didn't know how many people lived in the area, north of Interstate 40 in Prairie County.


"The levee hasn't breached, but it is stressed," Jackson said.

Elsewhere in Arkansas, teams of state and federal officials were preparing to examine flood-damaged buildings and businesses.


Bob Alvey, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he expected nine teams to spread across counties in northwest Arkansas first, then move to Arkansas' prairie, where the White River is threatening communities.


"We're hitting areas we can get to because a lot of areas we can't get to," Alvey said Tuesday morning. State and federal officials planned an afternoon news conference to provide an update on damages.


The White River swelled after last week's storms that devastated large parts of the Midwest. The river had risen about 7 feet in four days at Des Arc and was expected to crest Tuesday afternoon at 33.5 feet, the National Weather Service estimated.


On Monday, 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.


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

Last week's torrential rain 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.


Narrow escape

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 causes 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 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. The river was already at 38.4 feet Monday  more than 6 feet above flood stage  at Caruthersville, Coast Guard spokesman Dan Norton said.


Farther downstream, the Mississippi River is expected to top flood stage of 43 feet Wednesday at Vicksburg, Miss., and continue up to a crest of 46 feet on April 4, the weather service said.


On April 5, the river is likely to crest at 53.5 feet at Natchez, Miss. When the river reaches 50 feet there, water will reach a street in the historic Natchez-Under-the-Hill section, Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said. The last time water reached Silver Street was in 2003.


© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Midwest fights floods

River crests, but Mo. town's new levee holds; snowstorm hits upper region


The Associated Press, March. 23, 2008


VALLEY PARK, Mo. - As floodwaters pushed against the Valley Park levee, Tracy Ziegler pushed a cold beer toward one of his customers at Meramec Jack's bar and grill.


Like many residents of this small Meramec River town, Ziegler had been confident the new levee would pass its first test.


"I haven't even lifted my computer off the floor in the office," said Ziegler, who bought the bar in 2005, just after the Army Corps of Engineers finished the levee a few hundred yards away.


Residents of small towns along the Meramec breathed a sigh of relief Saturday as the river crested following days of flooding caused by torrential rainfall across the Midwest.


At Valley Park, the river rose to a peak of 37.8 feet Saturday morning, well above the flood stage of 16 feet but still below the record of 39.7 feet, according to the National Weather Service.


Elsewhere, rivers were still rising in southwest Illinois and parts of Arkansas, chasing people from their homes and into shelters. Rivers had mostly begun receding in Ohio.


At least 17 deaths have been linked to the weather over the past week, and one person was missing in Arkansas.


Thousands of people in Missouri had fled to Red Cross shelters or to the homes of friends or relatives.


In southern Missouri, water poured through several breaches in levees and led authorities to evacuate towns west of Cape Girardeau. At least 200 homes and 13 businesses had been evacuated in Cape Girardeau County, said emergency management director Dick Knaup. At least 70 Missouri counties have reported flooding this week.


Much of the flooding in Illinois was in sparsely populated areas, but several dozen people were evacuated from their homes in Murphysboro on Saturday, said Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.


"For some of these places, this is their 500-year flood," she said.

Authorities were keeping an eye on a levee near Grand Tower, Ill., because of a threat that the Big Muddy River could breach it and threaten the town of about 750 people. Some Illinois streams may not crest until Monday, Thompson added.


Across Arkansas, some rivers were hitting their highest levels in 90-odd years. The Arkansas River crested in Little Rock and points upstream at 22 feet, about a foot below flood stage in the capital city.


'They're going in and out with boats'


At Pine Bluff, Ark., the Arkansas River was expected to crest during the night at nearly a foot above flood level, said weather service hydrologist Steve Bays in North Little Rock.


However, no more than 50 homes were likely to be affected in Pine Bluff, said Wally Hunt, emergency management coordinator for Jefferson County.


Most people knew the water was coming and had prepared, Hunt said. "They're going in and out with boats, but have cars parked on higher ground," he said.


The Black River at Pocahontas, Ark., was projected to crest Monday at 26.5 feet, the highest there since 1915, the weather service said.

Rising water had blocked the only road into the small hamlet of Georgetown, Ark., population 126, marooning residents for as long as a week. "You just wait it out," Fire Chief Eddie Stephenson said Saturday.


Snow blows through


In addition to this past week's rain, more snow blew through parts of the Upper Midwest on Saturday, a day after as much as a foot of snow canceled some Good Friday services in parts of southern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.


In Chicago, flights were mostly back on schedule by Saturday afternoon at both O'Hare and Midway airports, said Karen Pride, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. About 200 travelers were stranded overnight at O'Hare.


Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport reopened late Saturday morning after being closed overnight because of the snow. About 200 people had to spend the night at the terminal, said airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe.


Milwaukee's 12.4 inches of snow Friday brought the city's total this season to 96 inches, its second-heaviest on record.


More snow fell Saturday in Ohio, with 7 inches at Cleveland and Youngstown.


© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


9 dead, 4 missing in central US storm


The Associated Press, March. 19, 2008


PIEDMONT, Mo. - Flooding forced hundreds of people to flee their homes and closed scores of roads Wednesday across the nation's midsection as a storm system linked to nine deaths poured as much as a foot of rain on the region.


The National Weather Service posted flood and flash flood warnings from Texas to Pennsylvania on Wednesday, and evacuations were under way in parts of Missouri, Arkansas and Ohio.


Heavy rain began falling Monday and just kept coming. Just over a foot had fallen at Mountain Home, Ark., and about 10 inches had fallen by Wednesday morning in southeast Missouri's Cape Girardeau