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Army Corps to release water from Bull Shoals Dam

By Jeannie Nuss, The Associated Press

This article was originally published May 24, 2011 at 3:24 p.m. Updated May 24, 2011 at 8:06 p.m.

Authorities in northern Arkansas were searching Tuesday for four people believed to be swept away by floodwaters, while officials warned residents a few counties over to be prepared for potential flooding as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released water from a dam.

Forecasters predicted more rain and severe weather would hammer Arkansas overnight, with the heaviest downpours expected across the state’s northern tier.

Emergency crews in Benton County scoured east of Siloam Springs to the Oklahoma border for a woman, her 5-year-old son, 2-month-old daughter and another woman who haven’t been seen since Monday night when they drove into high water, said Robert McGowen, the county’s director of emergency management. One of the women called her husband about 9:15 p.m. Monday and told him water was getting into the car.

Workers planned to continue searching until an hour before the severe weather hit or the daylight was gone — whichever came first, McGowen said.

Searchers and even some of the missing people’s relatives took to all-terrain vehicles in the hopes of finding them, McGowen said. The sheriff deployed a helicopter to search for the women and children by air, but they came up as fruitless as their colleagues on the ground.

“The water is still high so it’s really hard,” McGowen said.

Rescuers hoped to be able to continue their efforts on Wednesday if the four didn’t turn up sooner, but McGowen said crews might have to wait for some of the water to recede.

A few counties over, in Baxter County, sheriff’s officers passed out fliers warning residents of potential flooding as the Army Corps released water from the Bull Shoals Dam.

“Persons living in affected areas should either seek shelter elsewhere now or be very attentive and vigilant in monitoring water levels,” the sheriff’s office said. “They should be prepared to leave quickly if necessary, as water levels can rise rapidly cutting off exit routes.”

Water poured from the dam at a rate of at a rate of 44,700 cubic feet per second late Tuesday, according to Little Rock district spokeswoman Laurie Driver. That’s equivalent to filing 33 Olympic-sized swimming pools in a minute.

The increased release comes after a bout of bad weather dumped heavy rains on the region Monday — and just hours before forecasters expected the northern part of the state to be hit with more water.

The dam had been releasing water in smaller amounts on and off for the past month as rains saturated the region, Driver said. Earlier on Tuesday, water poured out of the dam of about 35,000 cubic feet per second, or 26 Olympic-sized swimming pools per minute.

That extra water was expected to head down the White River, likely causing the river to rise several feet and potentially leading to flooding. Driver said the river could rise by as much as 5 feet in some places.

Resort owners along the river carted up picnic tables and chairs away from the White River, which was expected to rise with the increased water from the dam.

Michael Selby, who runs the Wildcat Shoals Resort with his wife near the White River, secured his boats Tuesday and said he doesn’t plan to evacuate.

He expects the docks to float a bit higher, but said he’s not too concerned about a few more feet of water.

“I try to keep a breath of history around here,” said Selby, 56. “This is nothing like the flood of 1927.”

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