LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Interstate 30 south of Little Rock — a major connector between the heavily populated Dallas area and the central Midwest — was closed for several hours Thursday because of flooding from streams filled to overflowing by two days of heavy rain, a state highway official said.
The highway reopened Thursday afternoon, a state police spokesman said.
The heavy rain that fell Wednesday and Thursday sent rainfall totals well over the previous record for annual rainfall at Little Rock. The previous record, set in 1882, was 75.54 inches for the year. Rainfall this week, as of 4 p.m. Thursday, brought the total so far this year to 81.57 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Randy Ort, a spokesman for the state Highway and Transportation Department, said late Thursday morning that both eastbound and westbound lanes of I-30 were closed near the Pulaski-Saline county line after the highway was covered by water overflowing from Fourche Creek and its tributaries.
A major problem, Ort said, was that the normal alternate route for that traffic, Arkansas Highway 5, also was covered with water and closed, bringing most through traffic in the area to a halt.
I-30 is a major connector between central and southwest Arkansas and between Arkansas and northeast Texas, including the Dallas area. Hundreds of holiday travelers were stranded for several hours, according to state police spokesman Bill Sadler.
However, calls to motels in the area found none reporting that interstate motorists had checked in during the morning because their travel had been brought to a halt.
While the I-30 closure was the biggest problem, other highways, county roads and city streets were closed in scores of sites around Arkansas.
In addition to I-30 and Arkansas 5, other major highway closures in the state included U.S. 67-167 between Jacksonville and Cabot, U.S. 67 near Curtis in Clark County, Arkansas 7 near Amy in Ouachita County, Arkansas 8 between Princeton and Dalark, Arkansas 11 southeast of Searcy, Arkansas 16 in northern White County, Arkansas 32 from Hope to Bodcaw, and the Arkansas 51 bridge over the Ouachita River at Arkadelphia.
National Weather Service records show a record 4.6 inches of rain fell at the Little Rock airport Wednesday. On Thursday, agency data showed that, as of 4 p.m., 4.76 inches of rain had been recorded at the Little Rock airport since midnight.
The 4 p.m. figure was not a record for the date, however; the heaviest rainfall on Dec. 24 at Little Rock was in 1987, when 5.76 inches fell.
Sadler said eastbound lanes of I-30 were closed about 3 a.m. Thursday and, after some on-again, off-again closures of the westbound lanes, they were also shut down entirely about 9 a.m. He said I-30 was reopened to traffic again about 1:30 p.m., in both directions.
According to Sadler, 8-10 inches of water covered the road.
"We had reports from some of the troopers who had water as high as the floorboard of their car," he said.
Sadler said efforts were made to find out if any of the stranded motorists needed emergency aid.
"Early on, we sent troopers up and down the line of (stranded) traffic to check to see if there were any motorists who had medical needs or were running short of gasoline," Sadler said. "To my knowledge, we did not find any."
He said that as, of shortly before noon, the backed-up traffic in both directions had been cleared — by drivers making U-turns or reversing until they were able to reach an access ramp.
Sadler said only motorists who knew the area well, and knew which roads would be clear of water, would be able to cross the water-covered area in central Arkansas.
"Remarkably, we have had no reports of fatality accidents," Sadler said.
While the interstate was closed, Lt. Keith Eremea of the state police recommended that northbound travelers follow U.S. 270 from Malvern to Sheridan, U.S. 167 from Sheridan to I-530 south of Little Rock, and then connect again with I-30 on Little Rock's southeast side. Southbound motorists could reverse that route.
That detour would have added about 20 miles to the distance between Malvern and Little Rock.