PINE BLUFF -- Officials in Jefferson and Desha counties continue to keep a wary eye on the Arkansas River, which is forecast to crest at 51.5 feet today in Pine Bluff and at a record 38 feet Sunday morning in Pendleton.
Jefferson County Sheriff Lafayette Woods said Wednesday morning that no levee problems were reported overnight and that the situation remained much the same as previous days. Officials continued to patrol the levees while keeping tabs on the condition of the Arkansas River.
"We're a little more than 24 hours out from the river crest, and the levees are holding," Woods said. "The areas of previous concern have either been addressed or they are holding steady."
One area of concern, Woods said, has been Lake Saracen. The area is separated from downtown Pine Bluff by the Martha Mitchell Expressway and sits next to Regional Park, which abuts the Arkansas River.
Initial forecasts called for additional rain in the area this week, leading to concerns that Lake Saracen would rise and force water into downtown Pine Bluff. Forecasts Wednesday called for more scattered thunderstorms rather than heavy downpours.
"The water in Lake Saracen and the Regional Park area has gotten up to the actual fence and beyond the fence, so there's not much more that needs to happen in terms of rain coming in," Woods said. "As I understand, in the forecast, it doesn't show a constant flow of rain coming in, so I think we're going to be OK."
Weather officials said that after today's crest in Pine Bluff, the Arkansas River will remain at 51.5 feet into Saturday, when it's expected to begin its slow fall.
Jefferson County has experienced significant flooding already in some areas, where access is limited to boat travel and water has infiltrated homes. Like officials in many other communities along the river, Jefferson County officials are concerned about how long it will take floodwaters to recede in backwater areas.
That could take some time, according to Dan Koch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock.
"At least in modern times, nobody has ever imagined backwater getting into some of these places," Koch said. "The volume of backwater is going to take its time to drain out of places like Lake Conway and out of the bayous and channels adjacent to the river in places between Little Rock and Pendleton."
Koch said it could be July before things begin to get back to a semblance of normal, provided that weather patterns remain relatively dry along the Arkansas River Basin.
"We're kind of into a little bit of unknown territory," he said. "If we do wind up with some kind of event that dumps heavy rainfall, even with the river up so high and all of this backwater, our best and brightest minds at the River Forecast Center are trying to determine how quickly this water will drain out of these backwater areas and how that's going to delay things.
"But even those best minds can't really come up with a good, definitive answer because this is an event we haven't seen before."
Farther downriver in the Pendleton area, Desha County's county judge, Richard Tindall, estimated that at least 65 of the 80 homes in the community are already flooded.
All but a few residents have evacuated, he said, and the biggest concern is sightseers in the area, which is accessible only by boat.
"We've had, I'll bet you, four or five boats that have put in just in the last few hours," Tindall said Wednesday afternoon. "Just folks who want to drive out there and look around."
He said the biggest danger is the river current, which is normally placid but was raging Wednesday.
"I just took a ride on one of the county boats," Tindall said. "There was one place where the water was coming in under the bridge and breaking back to the left and back into the river. It was like shooting rapids.
"We didn't even get close to it, and it was trying to turn our boat sideways."
The Arkansas River dumps into the Mississippi River a few miles past Pendleton, and meteorologist Lance Pyle of the National Weather Service said high water along the Mississippi River will prolong flooding in Arkansas.
Flooding is expected to be more pronounced as the Arkansas River channel gets closer to where it drains into the Mississippi River.
"The Mississippi is flooded," Pyle said. "So that's going to slow the drainage of the Arkansas River into the Mississippi or maybe even back it up."
State Desk on 06/06/2019
Print Headline: Pine Bluff, Pendleton girded, await river's wrath