Arkansas communities hold “sandbagging parties” and prepare for dark flood days ahead

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A tense situation is dawning for the many thousands in and around the North Little Rock pockets by the Arkansas River, who have little choice but to prepare for dark days ahead amid historic flooding and severe storms in the region. 

“We are concerned about several different areas. If it rains, it could kill us,” Nathan Hamilton, the Director of Communications for the City of North Little Rock, told Fox News. “All the drainage is supposed to go to the river, but it can’t do that. So, we are preparing. It is all-hands-on-deck.”

Nathan Hamilton, a representative for the City of North Little Rock

Nathan Hamilton, a representative for the City of North Little Rock (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

The intense rains that have swallowed large swaths of Kansas and Oklahoma are now sweeping downstream to Arkansas. To make matters significantly worse, heavy rain and storms were expected to resume Tuesday and hammer down for yet another week. As it stands, the river is expected to crest at an unprecedented 29 feet on Wednesday, and that could be a best-case scenario.

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Nerves skyrocketed on Saturday night after a 911 call was made by a local worker, and quickly confirmed by police, that a levee had been breached. City officials raised the alarm for an emergency evacuation, which was later rescinded after engineers affirmed that the levee was still intact - yet the incident is indicative of just how ferociously the water is gushing through. 

“We will be okay as long as the unexpected doesn’t happen,” Hamilton underscored. “But that is why they call it the unexpected, we just don’t know.”

John Church filling sandbags for his Willow Beach home

John Church filling sandbags for his Willow Beach home (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

One community bearing the brunt of Mother Nature’s wrath is known as Willow Beach, once a laid-back, idyllic waterside hamlet now swathed in dangerously ascending water levels. The electricity has been turned off in several houses for safety reasons, it has been a week since the mail was delivered and trash collectors also can’t get inside the little locality, which is guarded by police.

“You are looking at the last two holdouts in the area right here,” said John Church, 74, a railroad retiree who sat outside enjoying a root beer with neighbor Randy Worshanm, watching the water froth up. “My bride of more than fifty years is inside, she was wanting to leave, and I said ‘no baby, we are going to stick this out for as long as we can. We are going to be here.”

Church’s other neighbor had no choice but to simply dump mounds of dirt around his precious property and hope for the best – no time for sandbagging – as he needed to continue going to work to make ends meet. But from his point of view, it is all just a part of life.

“Whatever happens – happens. Everything in that house, I can’t take it with me when I die. So, if we must go, it will just be the wife and our two dogs going to a motel,” he said. “This isn’t like a tsunami; it is more like a snake. It just crawls up to you.”

Much of Willow Beach is already flooded.

Much of Willow Beach is already flooded.

Nearby, hundreds of locals from counties across the state joined forces – with the support of the U.S. National Guard airmen and soldiers – to fill more than 6,000 sandbags over the weekend alone. Some referred to it as a “sandbagging party” complete with donated hotdogs and sweets as the days stretched into nights.

“It is the not knowing that is stressful,” acknowledged Robert Vanduren as he stuffed sandbags alongside the soldiers operating a machine. “But we are staying positive.”

A Red Cross shelter is ready to go in North Little Rock

A Red Cross shelter is ready to go in North Little Rock (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

The American Red Cross is additionally on standby in North Little Rock with a makeshift shelter to accommodate individuals in need. As of Sunday, only one person had checked into the community college gymnasium, but more than 30 cots had been set up and outfitted. 

“It’s a process where we hurry up and wait, but we are prepared,” said Lori Arnold, executive director for the Greater Arkansas Area. “We are prepared for the worst but hope that doesn’t happen.”

"Sandbagging parties" are underway across Arkansas

"Sandbagging parties" are underway across Arkansas (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

A further ten American Cross operated and supported shelters have been established in the region, with many filling fast. Some 150 miles northwest at Fort Smith, which has already been ravished in the recent maelstrom, the Red Cross has set up refuge in the Evangelical Temple Assembly of God, where almost 80 people had been relocated by Sunday.

“It has been going up, it started at eight and then twelve and now many more,” Arkansas Red Cross Director, Julie Brown, said of the location that sprang to life just before Memorial Weekend. “But the community has really pulled together.”

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Pastor Ryan Ross is also volunteering at the shelter, serving as something of a liaison between the community and the Red Cross. And while the effort is very much in the relief stage, with the recovery likely weeks away, the impact is going to hit hard for many months to come.

The American Red Cross has several shelters, many of which are filling fast.

The American Red Cross has several shelters, many of which are filling fast. (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

“Floods last a long time. There is media attention now but when it all dies down in a few weeks, there might not be,” Brown continued. “And people will still be dealing with damage assessments, water, electricity issues.”

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Both Rose and Brown also warned all those impacted to exercise caution when it comes to fraudulent individuals purporting to be the Red Cross and entering a property, luring victims to sign contracts and fork out funds and personal information.

“Check with the Chamber of Commerce and with the City on the legitimate resources,” Rose added. “All too often there are fly-by-the-night people who take advantage of people in troubling times.”