Evacuations Ordered After Arkansas River Breaks Through Levee Near Little Rock

Water is released from the Keystone Dam into the Arkansas River northwest of Tulsa, Okla. on Friday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began increasing the amount of water being released from the dam on Friday to control the flooding. (TOM GILBERT/AP)

The swollen Arkansas River ripped through a 40-foot section of a levee about 75 miles northwest of Little Rock, Arkansas, early Friday morning, prompting flash-flood warnings and evacuations in rural areas around Dardanelle and Holla Bend.

Yell County Emergency manager Jeff Gilkey said the breach occurred just south of Dardanelle

“There was nothing we could do to stop it,” he said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Jimmy Witt, mayor of Dardanelle, called on the 4,500 residents of his town to begin immediate sandbagging operations. He said he expected water to encroach the town “from the bayou side.”

“I ask you to please not panic, we have time to prepare for this,” Witt said on his Facebook page.

The National Weather Service, which issued the flash flood warning, noted a slight dip in the water level for the levee at Dardanelle, likely due to the breach.

“An historic flood event is expected along the Arkansas River in the coming days,” warned the National Weather Service in Little Rock. “Some long-time record crests could be surpassed by five feet above the record set in 1945.”

This is the same river that’s flooded hundreds of homes in the Tulsa area, and the high water is rolling downstream as the river makes its way to its confluence with the Mississippi River and then down into the Gulf of Mexico. Authorities say flooding danger will rise through at least the weekend along the river.

Arkansas authorities urged residents to evacuate the area, which is largely rural with dirt roads crisscrossing farm fields.

Drone footage published by the Yell County Sheriff’s Department showed the muddy water streaming through the dirt levee, surrounding several buildings with several feet of water. Yell County officials had anticipated the breakthrough and urged residents in about 160 homes in the nearby Holla Bend area to evacuate Thursday.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Doug Stanglin and Trevor Hughes