MIDWEST FLOODING | River begins to recede in northeast Oklahoma
FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — The raging Arkansas River is receding in northeastern Oklahoma as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers scales back releases from a hydroelectric dam near Tulsa.
Powerful storms have dropped more than 20 inches of rain on parts of the region over the past month and pushed the Keystone Lake reservoir to record levels. The reservoir drains a watershed of about 22,000 square miles (57,000 square kilometers) in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Corps Lt. Col. Adam Weece said Thursday that releases into the swollen river have fallen from a high of 275,000 cubic feet (7,787 cubic meters) per second Wednesday to 240,000 cubic feet (6,796 cubic meters) per second. Further releases are planned.
Weece says residents of flooded communities will see “a gradual and visible” decline in river levels over the next five days.
Officials in Arkansas say a weakened levee is holding on after workers scrambled to shore it up ahead of Wednesday’s downpours.
The levee is in rural Crawford County on the western edge of the state, and it’s affected by Arkansas River flooding that is devastating parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown says an 80-foot-wide section of the levee slid down Tuesday morning, but workers were able to reinforce the levee to keep floodwaters at bay.
Brown says the levee is still at risk of failing. If that happens, he says about 250 people and 150 structures are at risk.
Col. Bob Dixon of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says all other levees in Arkansas are in good shape as the river level remains at a historic crest Thursday in western Arkansas. But Dixon says local levee boards should have a plan in place for what to do if a levee fails, because the flooding is expected to persist for days if not weeks.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has deployed 200 members of the Illinois National Guard to respond to flooding along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
Pritzker on Thursday said another 200 Illinois National Guard members are on standby. He says the flooding is a “grave” and “urgent” situation.
The governor’s action comes as National Weather Service forecasts predict record or near-record crests along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers in the coming week.
The weather service says the Illinois River at Valley City is forecast to crest Monday at 27.3 feet (8.32 meters). The record crest in the tiny village north of Interstate 72 is 27 feet (8.23 meters).
State officials say they’re using 2 million sandbags to hold water back. They say they want to preserve evacuation routes, so priorities include protecting levees and preventing road closures and bridge failures.