IMAGE: FLOODED HOME
Mike Wintroath  /  AP
Floodwaters surround this home Wednesday near Clarendon, Ark., where the White River was still rising.
updated 3/26/2008 2:48:22 PM ET 2008-03-26T18:48:22

Arkansans sandbagged their front doors and pumped out their flooded basements Wednesday as a historic crest on the White River moved downstream, and a flooding expert said the state will have to deal with high water for weeks.

Residents and county officials along the river’s path in east-central Arkansas worried that the river flows would hit an already swollen Mississippi River on the state’s eastern border and flow back into their cotton and wheat fields.

“I don’t think anybody knows how much higher it’s going to get,” said Monroe County resident Marlin Reeves as overcast skies threatened rain.

Heavy rains filled major rivers in northern Arkansas early last week, flooding communities as the water moved downstream. Two people remain missing after the storms, and 35 counties — nearly half the state — were declared disaster areas.

National Weather Service hydrologist Steve Bays said the high waters will continue to threaten communities in Arkansas for weeks.

The weather service expects the White River to crest over the weekend at 33.5 feet, 7½ feet above flood stage and more than a foot higher than it was Wednesday afternoon.

'Prolonged' flood expected
But water will remain on some roads and highways and in some homes into mid-April, as well as cover cropland into May or beyond, Bays said.

“The river’s going to be out of its banks for a prolonged period of time,” Bays said.

Wednesday, Reeves, 67, used a small tractor to pile sand in the front yard of his home along the old White River. In its present-day channel, the swollen river moved along the opposite side of a pine-covered island visible from Reeves’ backyard. Already, river water flooded into other yards and homes down the gravel road.

Sand that Reeves got several days ago filled six bags in front of his front door.

Monroe County Judge Larry Morris, chief administrator in the county of about 11,300 people, said he feared the flooding would cut off roads to the area.

The county printed yellow-and-red flyers to distribute to residents, urging them to leave or to have enough food to last “at LEAST two weeks.”

Wheat farmers already were reporting damage from the water, Morris said.

Other areas also flooded
Recent heavy rains also flooded parts of Ohio, Indiana and southern Illinois, and wide areas of Missouri. The weather has been linked to at least 17 deaths.

The Mississippi River was rising more slowly than had been forecast at Vicksburg, Miss.

The Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center had expected the river to reach flood stage of 43 feet by Wednesday, but its latest prediction is that it will happen Saturday. The latest crest prediction is 45½ feet on April 4, down from an earlier forecast of 46 feet.

“We’re seeing a little more attrition than we anticipated,” said Marty Pope, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson. “That means we’re seeing some of the levees that have not experienced high waters in recent years actually soaking up a lot of the water and reducing the daily rises in some places, such as Vicksburg.”

Some areas of Vicksburg and Warren County already are taking on water, and others will flood if the crest forecast proves correct.

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