Area officials gathered at the Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management on Friday for a statewide conference call with the US Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service (NWS) to discuss preparedness and more ahead of the predicted Arkansas River flood.
“Toad Suck [Lock and Dam] is expected to set a record with a little over half a foot [of flooding],” Corps officials said to the room, which included Sen. Jason Rapert, Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry, County Judge Jim Baker, Sheriff Tim Ryals, OEM Director Shelia Bellott, County Administrator Tom Anderson, Conway Fire Department Chief Mike Winter, County Attorney David Hogue, OEM staff members and others. “It’s not the rain in Arkansas that is the issue.”
Corps officials said Conway County, specifically Morrilton — which borders Faulkner County and is about 20 miles from city of Conway — “will actually see a 100-year flood.”
When Corps officials began discussing Faulkner County, Judge Baker wasted no time in asking for help.
“We’re ready to officially declare an emergency,” he said. “We need all the help we can get.”
Later Friday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson followed suit, issuing an executive order to declare a state of emergency for all of Arkansas ahead of the flood. Hutchinson said two high-water rescue teams will be stationed at the areas expected to get hit hardest — western Arkansas — and that he will direct the deployment of more guardsmen as needed.
According to the NWS, the Arkansas River is expected to crest at 283.5 ft. MSL at the Toad Suck Lock and Dam May 29, exceeding the 1990 flood elevation and causing historic flooding. The extremely high water of the river is expected to push water up Palarm Creek and over the spillway at the Lake Conway dam. Backflow from the Arkansas River could be as high as two to four feet over the spillway. An event of this magnitude has never occurred on Lake Conway, so it is unclear exactly how much backflows from the Arkansas River will impact the water level of Lake Conway, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials have said.
Bellott gave the Corps an update on the preparations the county, with the help of Conway city departments, had made as of Friday morning.
She said teams had been filling sandbags since Wednesday morning.
"We're doing all we can do, but we can stop the water from rising," Bellott told the Log Cabin Democrat.
The sheriff's office has brought Act 309 inmates to the FCOEM headquarters twice a day since learning of the impending flood waters.
An Act 309 inmate is an individual serving a prison sentence in a county jail after serving at least six months in prison. Any inmate convicted of capital murder, first-degree murder, a sexual offense or who has attempted escape, serving a life sentence or sentenced to death is excluded from becoming an Act 309 inmate.
"We've had 309s, both male and female, out here since Wednesday," Lt. Gary Andrews said.
The inmates were brought in two separate shifts each day.
Local judges opted to offer double community work service credit for probationers who helped OEM staff fill sandbags.
District judges Chris R. Carnahan and David L. Reynolds announced Thursday "that persons who are under misdemeanor probation or owe community work service to Faulkner County District Court can receive double credit for aiding Faulkner County in filling sandbags in anticipation of the flooding of the Arkansas River."
Faulkner County Probation Officer Darrick Simmons said many stepped up to aide during quickly approaching crisis.
Offering double work-service credit was ultimately a win-win for county residents and local probationers, he said.
"For people that are on probation and owe court fines, it helps them to get caught up," Simmons said. "But it also helps others who could lose their homes, whose property is in danger. This is a great way for these guys to give back to their community."
City of Conway employees also stepped up to the plate and started filling sand bags on Friday.
Transportation Department Director Finley Vinson said his employees, along with those from the IT department, began filling sandbags at the transportation department around 9 a.m. After lunch, the sanitation crew took over.
By 10 a.m., city employees had filled more than 1,200 bags to send over to the OEM. City employees did not stop until they'd filled 3,000 sandbags.
Bellott also said that residents in high-risk areas had been alerted via the county’s Code Red system. An evacuation center — the Don Owen Sports Complex in Conway — has been established.
The county has a team standing by to help if needed with animals stranded or distressed by the flood.