Faulkner County residents who likely will be affected by the imminent flood waters along the Arkansas River can seek shelter at the Don Owen Sports Center in Conway.
The sports center opened its doors officially at 3 p.m. Saturday to individuals who likely will be flooded out of their homes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warns residents that historic flooding levels are probable in areas along the river.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has issued a state of emergency and local officials are warning residents who live in flood plains to get out of their homes before it's too late.
Faulkner County Attorney David Hogue also announced Saturday afternoon that a shelter is available to look after pets as well.
"This is the first time that when you go to a shelter ... you can bring your pet," he said. "We have a pet shelter now because we don't want those pets to stay out int he dangerous waters and so forth any more than we do you."
Catherine Swift, a volunteer with the Faulkner County Animal Response Team, said the process to register an animal to be looked after in the emergency pet shelter if fairly simple.
Those seeking shelter for their pets will need to bring an ID, their pet's medical records and "some form of proof of residency such as a utility bill" to show they live in an affected area.
The emergency animal shelter is located at the Faulkner County Rodeo Arena, which is also located at 10 Lower Ridge Road in Conway.
The facility is open to pet owners from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Volunteers helping to care for area animals encourage pet owners to visit their furry friends.
"We don't want to isolate people from their pets," Swift said.
In a unique turn of events, the rescue group was notified more than 24 hours before their services were directly needed, giving volunteers time to set up kennels and collect supplies needed as the flood waters make their way into the county, Swift told the Log Cabin Democrat.
The group previously aided animals that were affected during the 2014 tornadoes that swept across Vilonia and Mayflower. Since then, the Faulkner County Animal Response Team has built strong sponsorships across the county and is better prepared to aide families and their furry friends in emergency situations. The group has a veterinarian available to aide injured pets, and asks that those who have pets on specific diets to supply food needed to sustain their animals.
There is no limit to how many animals a family can bring, until the facility has reached its capacity, Swift said.
Volunteers are able to care for animals of kinds — cats, dogs, llamas and horses — but asks that larger livestock (cattle) not be brought in.
The Red Cross is onsite at the Don Owen Sports Center and can provide shelter to 300 residents, if needed.
Shelter Manager Jackie Campbell told the Log Cabin that families will be able to come-and-go as they please after registering at the center's entrance but that they will need to sign in and out respectively as they leave and return to the shelter facility on Lower Ridge Road.
Meals will be served at 7 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.
Individuals who are not approved for the shelter will not be allowed into the designated shelter area, Campbell said. To register, residents must bring their ID as well as documentation (such as a utility bill) that shows they live in areas affected by flood waters.
City of Conway and Faulkner County officials warn residents to be prepared and also to keep an eye on the weather.
"We ask that you please take advantage of this resource if you’re going to be affected," Conway spokesman Bobby M. Kelly III said. Don’t wait until it’s too late. The Conway fire chief wants everyone to start paying attention now."
While it is very clear nearby areas will be flooded out, Kelly also told the Log Cabin that he wants to assure Conway residents that it is not likely that those who live within the city will be affected.
"There is no reason for them to panic," he said as he further explained that engineers were at the Toad Suck Lock and Dam and continuously inspecting the structure since Gov. Hutchinson declared a state of emergency.
"The city will only be affected if the levy breaks, which is very unlikely," he said. "There is no data, absolutely nothing, to give us concern at this point."
However, those in the county who live along the Arkansas River will experience major flooding.
"If your house has ever been flooded, in 1999 or 2016, you’re about to get flooded again," Hogue said. "Take precautions now."
The National Weather Service predicts the Toad Suck Lock and Dam will crest at 283.5 feet on Thursday.
The Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management issued another warning Saturday afternoon, alerting residents this will be "a record flood event."
Spillway gates on Lake Conway were closed Saturday afternoon. At the time, the lake's water level was 1 foot below normal, according tot he Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The gates will remain closed until the flooding event is over.
Residents across Faulkner County can pick up sandbags at the FCOEM headquarters, located at 57 Acklin Gap Road in Conway, to protect their homes from the flood waters.
Volunteers have worked since Wednesday to fill thousands of sandbags.
Several volunteers gathered at the Beaverfork Fire Department on Saturday to continue filling sandbags.
Officials said it is important to follow City of Conway and Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management alerts regarding the flooding situation.
"As you are thinking about the fact that you may need a shelter, be putting together a go-kit — that’s a bag with a toothbrush, a change of clothes, bottles of water, snacks, whatever you would need for an overnight stay," Hogue said.
Mayflower officials said they would be able to set up a shelter at the middle school if volunteers were able to help run the center. At this point, Hogue said officials do not have the man power to provide shelter amenities in Mayflower.