LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Flooding remained a problem Tuesday in a wide area of east Arkansas where numerous counties were made eligible for federal disaster assistance, putting another hitch in state commerce as the Mississippi River level inched slowly downward at Arkansas City.
The Coast Guard closed part of the Mississippi River to barge traffic around Natchez, Miss. Earlier this month, the Army Corps of Engineers closed a lock on the Arkansas River at Tichnor to limit water reaching the swollen Mississippi.
Since then, coal and gravel miners haven’t been able to move their products to the Mississippi. And with the river’s closure south of Arkansas, commodities can’t get to the Port of New Orleans.
Arkansas wheat farmers are near harvest time, and it is uncertain when the river will open again so they can move their crop.
The Mississippi crested at 53.14 feet at Arkansas City on Monday, and nudged down to 52.95 feet by Tuesday afternoon, still 16 feet above flood stage of 37 feet. By Sunday, the river is projected to creep down to about 52.5 feet.
The reading is important because the Arkansas City gauge is downriver from where the Arkansas and White rivers empty into the Mississippi. Once the Mississippi lowers, rivers in Arkansas can drain.
The St. Francis River also flows into the Mississippi further north, above Helena-West Helena. The Mississippi was at 54.9 feet Tuesday afternoon at Helena-West Helena, 11 feet above flood stage of 44 feet but down from its crest of 56.23 feet on Saturday.
Wheat growers, many already facing yield losses because of the stretch of rotten weather in late April, are now facing uncertainty about shipping their harvest.
The Coast Guard closed 15 miles of the Mississippi to prevent wake pressure on strained levees.
"There are some concerns about where the wheat is going to go," said Jason Kelley, extension wheat and small grains specialist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
A lot of grain storage facilities have flooded, and wheat is customarily delivered to grain terminals along the Mississippi.
"Initial reports are that most of the terminals are going to be open and able to handle wheat, but some locations will not be ready and will have to go to an alternate site because the grain bins are flooded or have been flooded," Kelley said.
Another concern is that nitrogen fertilizer can’t move upriver for distribution.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service has rated the state’s wheat crop as 5 percent excellent condition and 32 percent good, and 53 percent fair or poor. About a half-million acres were planted.
Also Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said disaster assistance was made available to another 34 counties for infrastructure repairs. Ten counties were earlier approved for the aid.
The counties added to the list were: Baxter, Boone, Calhoun, Chicot, Clark, Clay, Cleburne, Cleveland, Crittenden, Cross, Dallas, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Howard, Independence, Izard, Johnson, Lawrence, Lincoln, Madison, Marion, Nevada, Newton, Perry, Pike, Polk, Randolph, Saline, Searcy, Sharp, Van Buren, White and Yell.
The agency also added 10 counties to the 16 where residents are eligible for individual assistance. They are: Cross, Greene, Independence, Jackson, Lawrence, Lonoke, Mississippi, Monroe, Prairie and Woodruff.
Also, the Arkansas Department of Human Services said food assistance has been extended to people in another eight counties: Boone, Crittenden, Jefferson, Madison, Montgomery, Phillips, Washington and White.
Seven more counties are eligible for disaster unemployment assistance: Cross, Jackson, Lonoke, Mississippi, Monroe, Prairie and Woodruff.