As flood waters continue to rise in northeast Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is sending additional manpower and resources to the area. It comes as an earthen levee for the Black River near Pocahontas is apparently no longer able to hold back the water.
Hutchinson told reporters Wednesday at the state Capitol that state emergency officials have identified nine levee breaches in Randolph County alone, and that three of those "appear to be categorized as major."
108 Arkansas National Guard members are now in the area, he said, along with 25 vehicles capable of conducting high-water rescues. The Arkansas State Police department is also assisting, with 23 troopers or personnel to assist in search and rescues, traffic control, as well as to provide communications support.
"Right now it’s all about the protection of lives and property," Hutchinson said, adding that he has no doubt that a federal disaster declaration will eventually come from Washington, which would provide additional money and resources. 27 counties have declared local emergencies.
The Black River is expected to crest Friday, with water that has already inundated much of Pocahontas, to continue spreading. More than 500 people have been evacuated, with six shelters opened for displaced residents. Officials say about 50 homes have been destroyed or suffered major damage.
In the Lawrence County cities of Hoxie and Walnut Ridge, people have been filling sandbags with the expectation that water will be rising to their properties.
"It’s going to be bad. I think it’s going to be bad,” said Redda Russell, one of those getting sand outside the Walnut Ridge City Shop. "Some of the guys are telling me, ‘its never got up that high at your house.’ Famous last words."
Governor Hutchinson said state officials are carefully monitoring the situation in Lawrence County. He advised that if evacuation orders are given for additional areas, residents should not resist.
"Listen to the local authorities and if they order an evacuation, that you do so quickly," he said. "Don’t second guess them, but heed the admonition and the order to evacuate." He also reminded people not to drive over flooded roadways.
Seven deaths in the state have been attributed to storms since heavy rain fell last weekend, while the governor noted a search continues for one child still missing. Additional storms passing through the state Wednesday only exacerbated the situation.
Reporting by Arkansas Public Media's Ann Kenda in Walnut Ridge contributed to this story.