FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — State and local officials urged those threatened by floodwaters to evacuate now while they can because the flooding is expected to get worse before it gets better.
Sebastian County Judge David Hudson led off the news conference by announcing a number of resources people can text to provide donations through the United Way to help those affected by the floods.
“You text ‘Flood2019’ to 91999,” Hudson said.
All donations will go to the flooding initiative, Hudson said.
Hudson said they would soon announce ways people can volunteer to help, as well as ways they can donate items such as clothing. They also would quickly announce a coordinated food services plan to feed those who need it.
Melody Daniel with the Sebastian County Office of Emergency Management said the water is expected to crest tomorrow at 42.5 feet, nearly 20 feet above flood stage, so the worst isn’t over yet. Not only was the volume of water an issue, so was the speed in which it was flowing.
“The flow on the Arkansas River is 550,000 cubic feet per second. Tomorrow afternoon, when the river crests, it is projected to be at a flow of 570,000 cubic feet per second,” she said, providing numbers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Those who need to leave their homes and neighborhoods should do so now before the water crests to avoid not only endangering their lives, but also the lives of rescuers who may have to respond to them in an emergency.
“Take all of the warnings and advice from local officials as the most urgent form of communication,” she said. “If an official tells you to leave an area, heed that advice.
“Again, this is a serious situation, and life-saving activity is our number one concern at this point in time,” Daniel said.
Officials said the water isn’t expected to go above the predicted 42.5 feet now, but with heavy rains upstream and more expected in this area over the next 24 hours, those numbers could change.
Meanwhile, officials again announced the re-opening of the Interstate 540 and Midland Avenue bridges from Fort Smith to Van Buren. But the announcement comes with a warning, said Chad Adams with the Arkansas Department of Transportation.
“That comes with the caveat that if conditions change…both bridges would likely be shut down again,” he said. “That will all depend upon what happens with the water volumes and the elevations and the impact it would have.”
Adams said another shutdown would not happen “at a moment’s notice,” but that they would project when the closure would happen and announce it ahead of time.
He said the department had “no intentions” to close the bridge at Highway 59 in Barling.
Carl E. Geffken, Fort Smith city administrator, said both wastewater treatment stations were up and operational.
He also said 12 of the city’s 23 pump stations are shut down, but that they’ve taken “necessary precautions” to ensure no treated water backs up into homes.
“Those actions have been successful,” Geffken said.
He said the water is “fine” and drinkable and there is no boil water order. He also urged people not to remove sewer caps or tamper with water meters.
Hudson said the officials would hold regular briefings at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily until the emergency had passed.
Hudson said the county was working with county Emergency Management agencies, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the Arkansas Department of Transportation, among others, to coordinate a response to the flooding.
Daniel reminded attendees that the governor has declared a state of emergency so funds could be released to assist those impacted from the floods.
Mayor George B. McGill said the floods were “another test” for the city of Fort Smith, and that “everyone is impacted, and they are in our prayers.”
He said more than 700 people have volunteered to step up and help neighbors.
The mayor provided a number for those needing food assistance. The number, 1-800-558-3370, is for the River Valley Food Relief Information Center.
McGill urged those who had emergencies to still call 911, but all others should call the 800 number.