Thousands of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma residents braced for more flooding Wednesday and some evacuated their homes, as forecasts of more rain drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.
More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has devastated the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of the 3 states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.
“This is a flood of historic magnitude,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference Wednesday, joined by state emergency officials and officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Of the Arkansas River, he said: “It’s a beautiful sight until it comes to get you.”
Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, the governor said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.
More heavy downpours were forecast through Wednesday night over much of the two states, with between 1 and 3 ins expected, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Weather Prediction Center, said.
By early June, rivers are expected to crest to the highest marks on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s 2nd largest city, Mayor GT Bynum warned that the city’s 70-year-old levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”
So far, he said, the 20-mile levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.
A plague of extreme weather has upended life in the region, with more than 300 tornadoes touching down in the Midwest in the last 2 weeks.
Several tornadoes touched down Tuesday evening in Kansas, damaging homes, uprooting trees and ripping down power lines, according to the NWS. Tornadoes also pulverized buildings in western Ohio, killing 1 person and injuring scores of others.