Forced to close businesses and evacuate homes after already-significant flood damage, residents of Jefferson County are bracing themselves for the cresting of the Arkansas River. The National Weather Service forecasts the water level to reach a near record-breaking 51 feet in Pine Bluff Thursday night, marking the river’s highest crest since 1943.
Despite of all the efforts to prepare for this historic flooding, much of the damage has already been done. After touring the area’s levee system and flooded sections, Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson said in an interview with KUAR News Thursday afternoon that it was striking to see the damage.
"Over 550 homes have been affected due to the flooding," Robinson said. "It is going to be millions and millions of dollars as far as damages go. We haven’t been able to put down a dollar figure yet, but as the water recedes, we will start to make some determinations."
Nearly all of those homes lay inside Pine Bluff’s levee system, according to Robinson. He says that gaps within the levee system have been filled in as a precaution and city officials have been working with state and federal emergency agencies, as well as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Forestry Commission, to prepare for the crest.
"Right now, we don’t expect the crest until approximately 7 p.m. tonight," Robinson said. "Some of the areas that we were working on that were areas of concern, some of the levees, we were able to fix, or at least temporarily try to build up the levees where they wouldn’t be affected as far as the water breaching them. I think we got all of those taken care of."
Robinson says he’s confident there won’t be any breaches in the levees. Residents living in areas of concern, however, have already been asked to evacuate. Thunderstorms are expected to hit the Pine Bluff area for the next couple of days. However, the National Weather Service predicts the river’s cresting height will remain the same until after Sunday, at which point the sun will come out and the historic floods may finally begin to subside.
For live updates on the Arkansas River, go to the National Weather Service’s hydrologic prediction service.