Tiny town in Arkansas evacuated as Red River rises

AP News
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Posted: Jun 05, 2015 7:54 PM

GARLAND CITY, Ark. (AP) — Emergency officials told the 242 residents of Garland City in southwestern Arkansas to stay away from their homes Friday because floodwaters are threatening to undermine a levee along the Red River.

About 75 miles south of there, some homes and businesses are flooding in Shreveport, Louisiana, and officials are preparing for the problems to get worse.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said during a briefing Friday in Shreveport that the National Weather Service is predicting the Red River on Sunday will hit its highest levels in 70 years in the Shreveport-Bossier City area. Some buildings have already become inundated with water, said Jindal, who flew over the area in a helicopter.

"This is a very impressive amount of water," Jindal said. "It's hard to appreciate unless you get to see it up in the air."

Heavy rains in Texas and Oklahoma in recent weeks triggered sharp rises on the Red River. A number of roadways in east Texas, southwestern Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana have been closed because of high water.

Jindal said the National Weather Service predicts the Red River in Shreveport will crest Sunday at 36.5 feet — a foot higher than an earlier forecast. He said the river could remain at that level for 36 to 48 hours, and it will drain slowly over the next month or so.

Sheriff Steve Prator of Caddo Parish, Louisiana, urged people to use good sense and not to wade or ski in floodwaters.

"We don't have time to fool with you," Prator said. "Don't go out there and do something stupid and cause us to use manpower to come and rescue you."

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said that while the river is falling, enough pressure remains along a dirt levee in Garland City that a sand boil developed. Water is seeping through the hole, and workers are hoping to balance the pressure by pumping water into a pond on the other side of the levee. It is hoped that the pond will "push back" against the river, state officials said.

"It is still very much touch and go," Rick Fahr, a spokesman for the emergency agency, said in an interview. In a subsequent email regarding the evacuees, he said, "It may be a few days before they can return."

Emergency workers went door-to-door late Thursday to impose the evacuation order. A shelter opened in Texarkana, 15 miles away, but only eight people showed up, said Clare Francavilla, the disaster program manager for the American Red Cross in northeast Texas, though her region also covers Miller County, Arkansas.

"Any time you have a disaster, we only expect about 1 percent to show up (at a shelter)," Francavilla said. "People would rather go anyplace else."

Typically in rural Arkansas, residents stay with relatives or friends after a disaster.

Francavilla said that, while visiting Garland City overnight to take coffee and snacks to emergency workers, it seemed like she was stepping into a science fiction movie.

"All you could see were these big sand trucks going back and forth," she said. "There were no cars on the street."