‘We are well protected’

St. Francis Levee District crews on the job as river rises

By Ralph Hardin ralphhardin@gmail.com

Crittenden County residents have a healthy respect for the awesome power of the Mississippi River. So, when its waters start to rise, people take notice. And rise it has. Over the past several weeks, heavy rains and northern runoff have left the banks of the Mississippi swollen to rare levels. With major storms in late December, water levels have reached flood stage locally and all along the river. St. Francis Levee District engineer and Executive Vice-president at the Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association, Rob Rash, said levee crews were working to ensure the levee is weathering the increased burden. “Crews are beginning 12-hour shifts as needed today,” Rash said last Wednesday, “and 24/7 beginning Monday, when the river is expected to be at 38 feet.” A level of 34 feet is considered “flood stage” in Memphis. On Dec. 28, Rash projected the river would crest at 41 feet in Memphis on Jan. 9. “The St. Francis Levee District has forces deployed and operations will increase at conditions dictate,” he said. “We are well protected.” Rash later updated his projections, with a new crest level of 43.5 feet. “This has developed quickly but we have all critical areas identified and have components in place,” he said. “All is well. All structures constructed during 2011 flood have been rebuilt, improved and left in place. All stop log structures are in place and ready.” In 2011, the river saw its highest level and largest flood by volume in history, 48.7 feet, breaking nearly 100 year-old records in the process. In 1997, the river reached 42 feet. Excepting those two recent deluges, the Jan. 9 crest will be the highest since 1937 and in the top five in recorded history. To the north, record flooding along some tributaries will send the Mississippi River to levels not seen since 1993 in St. Louis, where a stretch of Interstate 55 was temporarily closed in both directions early last Thursday morning as flooding near Arnold, Missouri, south of St. Louis, prompted “aggressive sandbagging and pumping operations.” Also, a 24-mile long stretch of Interstate 44 was closed southwest of St. Louis due to flooding. Although Crittenden County and surrounding areas have been spared the brunt of Mother Nature’s wrath, much of the state can not say the same. The same weather systems that have caused the river’s rise wrought havoc on many parts of Arkansas. Early last week, Governor Asa Hutchinson issued disaster declarations for 12 counties following severe storms that caused heavy flooding and damage, including Benton, Calhoun, Carroll, Drew, Franklin, Logan, Madison, Ouachita, Perry, Polk, Searcy and Washington counties. A few days later, Baxter, Chicot, Crawford, Jackson, Jefferson, Little River, Marion, Montgomery and Sebastian counties were added to the list. On Dec. 30, Bradley Clay, Desha, Faulkner, Greene, Johnson, Randolph, Scott, Sevier, White and Yell counties were also added, making a total of 32 of Arkansas’ 75 counties a part of the declaration.

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