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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 Jackson County crews continued work Monday to fortify a damaged levee near Newport before another round of storms moves into the area this week.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered the National Guard to the area over the weekend. Crews covered the levee in plastic to slow further erosion created by the faster currents on the swollen White River, and helicopters were used to pile more than 60 sandbags around the structure.

Six inches of rain fell in the area last week, raising the White River to flood stage, weakening the levee and putting some 30 homes downstream at risk. County Judge Jeff Phillips last week issued a nonmandatory evacuation order advising residents to leave the mostly rural area south of Newport and east of the White River.

The levee wasn't breached, but flash flooding is again a concern across the state, especially today and Saturday, when forecasts call for the greatest amount of rainfall, the National Weather Service said. Another 3 to 6 inches of rain is predicted for Jackson County, and the weather service said as much as 8 inches is expected in some areas of eastern Arkansas by the end of the week.

Heavy rain would "severely worsen" river flooding, said Brian Smith, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.

"The rivers haven't totally fallen from the heavy rain we had a few days ago," Smith said. "This time of year, when we get these bouts of moderate to heavy rainfall, it doesn't really give them any time to fall before the rising again. In some cases, it can keep them from falling significantly, and in other cases it can bring them right back up."

Phillips, the county judge, said Monday that long-term fixes for the Jackson County levee will have to take a back seat to the immediate need to reinforce the structure before significant rainfall hits the area again.

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

The White River crested at 30.14 feet Thursday morning in Jackson County, and Phillips' evacuation order ended after the river receded from major flood levels.

The river remained elevated Monday, according to a National Weather Service report.

"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."

Forecasts call for the heaviest rainfall totals on the eastern edge of Arkansas.

Clark Hall, county judge of Phillips County, said officials are preparing in case of major flooding.

"We've had people out checking the levees to make sure they are in good shape," Hall said. "We've had the road department making sure the drainage ditches are clear, and to the best of our ability we're trying to be ready for it."

Helena-West Helena Mayor Kevin Smith said crews are still dealing with damage from flooding that occurred last week. Quarles Lane had the dirt wash out underneath the roadway, which then fell through, Smith said.

Repairs have been completed, but Smith said officials are waiting for the dirt work and for the roadway to settle. He said he hopes the city can avoid additional road damage.

"One of the busiest roads we have -- between the school and Walmart, and you can imagine how busy that can be -- is closed right now," he said. "We've been working on it for the last week."

Meteorologist Jeff Hood with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock said major flooding isn't expected in Jefferson County, but he cautioned that heavy rainfall will likely result in flash flooding in some low-lying areas that could disrupt travel routes.

"We'll probably have to close some roads, especially in the immediate downtown area [of Pine Bluff] that normally floods from 20th [Street] all the way up to 28th and some of the areas downtown," County Judge Gerald Robinson said. "That always happens when we get heavy rain."

Robinson said poor drainage is the main culprit, causing water to back up with nowhere to go but into the streets during periods of heavy rain.

"We'll be blocking streets and trying to keep people from driving into those areas," he said. "If you see a cone blocking the road, just turn around and find another route."

The National Weather Service predicts 4 to 6 inches of rain for the central Arkansas area through Sunday, and 1 to 3 inches for Northwest Arkansas.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Snyder of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 02/19/2019

Print Headline: Levee crews in northeast Arkansas race as more rain looms

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