Today I want to talk about the Arkansas River as its water levels continue to rise and threaten thousands of people who live and work along its banks. This is a river flood unlike any we have ever seen.
For more than a week, we have been tracking the river since it flooded towns in eastern Oklahoma. Neighbors have helped each other fill sandbags to protect homes in Fort Smith and Van Buren. And as the water moves downstream, the floodwaters have forced over 12 highways across the state to close.
We are witnessing the force of nature, but we are not helpless. With the leadership of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, the Arkansas National Guard, the Arkansas State Police, and the Civil Air Patrol, we are in the business of mitigation, minimizing the loss of life and damage to property. The Corps of Engineers has kept us abreast of developments so that we know where to deploy people and sandbags. At the request of emergency management, I have allocated $350,000 in emergency funds so that our counties and cities can respond to immediate needs. I’ve also asked for emergency federal assistance.
I have driven through miles of flooded land, and I have flown over hundreds of acres of floodwaters. The magnitude of devastation is hard to put into words. Every house that I saw underwater, and every business with water at the front door, represents people who have suffered great loss. This flood has altered the life story of so many.
We still don’t know how our state will look when this is over. There’s still a lot of water to come.
But as we care for the victims, we already are paying attention to what we can do to improve our efforts in the event of another one. In light of this flood, where do we need to strengthen levees, which levees need to be taller?
After the flood of 2016, Perry County officials used their experience and took advantage of a grant to rebuild and fortify their levees. The levees held in the flood of 2019, which was more powerful than before.
There is one thing about Arkansas that we can’t much improve or strengthen, and that is the way Arkansans take care of one another. One of the county judges I called this week was out of breath when he answered his phone because he was out filling sandbags. Many employees of local and state agencies gave up their Memorial Day plans in order to keep the rest of us safe. The cooperation among agencies has been textbook perfect and prevented the disaster from being even worse.
As I have seen over and over, the people of Arkansas set aside the routines of life to help, whether it’s moving furniture, or filling and stacking sandbags.
That’s the great story of the historic Flood of 2019. That’s the history of Arkansas.