Protective Barriers Used in Iraq Put to Work Holding Back Floodwaters in Arkansas

Barriers used to stop insurgents' bullets in Iraq will be used to hold back water from a leaky levee along the swollen Black River, officials said Friday, as more rain fell across an already soaked Arkansas.

Trucks dumped load after load of rocks over a flooded road Friday near Pocahontas, trying to build a path above the water for workers to install HESCO bastion walls, said Randolph County Judge David Jansen. Workers can use heavy equipment like back hoes to fill the wire-mesh container's plastic lining in minutes — as opposed to the hours it takes to build a sandbag wall.

"You can imagine how many sandbags it would take to make one of these containers and sandbags have be handled individually by hand," said P.J. Spaul, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "You can get more protection up more quickly with fewer people."

Spaul said the corps brought 1,000 feet of the bastions to Pocahontas to hold back a cut in the levee along the Black River. The corps has another 500 feet of the bastions in Poplar Bluff, Mo., nearly 50 miles northeast of Pocahontas along the Black River.

Spaul said the U.S. military in Iraq often stacks the sand-filled barriers on top of each other to build walls to stop small-arms fire and some rocket attacks.

The corps also will use about 500 feet of Portadams in Pocahontas as well, Spaul said. The steel barriers sit at an angle, covered with a fabric coating that repels water. Another 1,000 feet of the Portadam sits at the Jacksonport State Park, ready to be used if the White River floods downstream from the Black, Spaul said.

Jansen said the Black River had begun to recede slightly from last week's storms and flooding, but heavy rains predicted for the coming days could cause even more damage. He said county workers began backing dump trucks filled with rocks against a flooded road to the levee Friday morning. Workers used a road grader to even out the rocks into a rough gravel road.

"We've never built a road underwater," Jansen said. "It's kind of hard to see."

The flooding in Arkansas began with storms March 17 in the Midwest, and federal and state officials have been able to assess the damage only where the water has receded. Thirty-five counties — nearly half the state — have been declared federal disaster areas. One person was killed in the storms in Arkansas, and another remains missing.

Recent heavy rains also flooded parts of other states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. The weather has been linked to at least 17 deaths in the region.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Lawrence and Randolph counties through Saturday morning as clouds took over the sky across the state. Forecasters called for a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms Friday and the possibility of more rains heading into the weekend.

Steve Bays, a hydrologist for the weather service, said the system could bring as much as 2 inches of rain to the state. As long as the rain didn't come all at once, the showers shouldn't cause rivers to rise any higher, he said.

Estimates put the White River to crest at Clarendon by Sunday at 33.5 feet.

"The deal is, it's going to be real close to a crest — within a couple of inches — for a day and a half, two days," Bays said. "That means the water is going to be spreading out into those bottoms down there" and take longer to recede.

Meanwhile, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency continued to assess counties damaged by flooding. FEMA administrator R. David Paulison will travel to flooded communities Monday morning with state emergency management David Maxwell, said Grant Tennille, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe. The two will brief Beebe that afternoon, as the governor will stay at the state Capitol to attend a special legislative session, Tennille said.

Near Pocahontas, water began rushing through two gaps in a neglected 60-year-old levee last week on the Black River. While initially considered breaches made by the rushing water, Spaul said it appeared like farmers or other residents made a 200-foot-wide cut to the levee over the years.

Jansen said he didn't know what caused the water to rush through the levee. He said the corps told him the levee's maintenance was his responsibility as the county's top administrator.

"After this is all said and done and we get the levee put back, if it's my responsibility, I'll step forward and take responsibility for that," he said. "We'll maintain somehow, some way."