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story.lead_photo.caption A National Guard helicopter works to reinforce a damaged levee on the banks of the White River on Saturday. Photo by Jackson County Judge Jeff Phillips.

The Arkansas National Guard and crews in Jackson County worked on Monday to fortify a damaged levee that held back a rising White River following heavy rains last week before more storms move through the region.

Forecasters are predicting up to six inches of rain in the southern part of Jackson and Woodruff counties through Saturday.

Six inches of rain fell last week, weakening a levee south of Newport. Some 30 homes in the area were placed under a suggested evacuation order, though the levee held back the waters then.

Jackson County Judge Jeff Phillips said it's urgent to fix the faults in the levee with more heavy rain expected.

"Everybody is still nervous, especially with more rain behind last week," Phillips said. "We just need some warm and dry weather to get this out of here."

Phillips last week advised some residents to leave their homes while the White River rose and raised fears that a breach could see large amounts of water pour into the wide swath of mainly farmland. The order has since ended as the river has receded from major flood levels.

The river remained slightly elevated Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

The agency expressed concerns that water levels across the state’s rivers haven’t fully lowered since last week, warning that heavy rain would “severely worsen” river flooding and also trigger flash flooding.

“We want to make sure everyone is aware and to be watching," Phillips said. "We have tried to keep everybody posted."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered the National Guard to the area. They brought helicopters to pile on more than 60 sandbags through the weekend and into Monday, Phillips said. Crews also covered the levee in plastic to stave off further erosion from faster currents.

The Army Corps of Engineers has also been monitoring the levee's condition, as well as formulating a plan for the county to make long-term fixes.

Phillips said engineers were “very happy” with the recent work being done ahead of more rain.

Previous work done to the levee last year was largely undone by last week’s storms, Phillips said.

The Corps of Engineers noted deterioration in parts of the levee in 2016, saying a failure of the 22-mile structure could cause “potential loss of life” and millions of dollars in damage.

The county and its levee board would need to fund permanent repairs, which have largely taken a back seat to immediate concerns of the structure failing.

“We’re focusing on what we need to do now," Phillips said. "We're trying to prepare for it.”

Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.


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