By Charlie Lapastora
Published May 26, 2019
The National Weather Service is warning of a "dangerous and life threatening situation” with “near catastrophic flooding along the Arkansas River” and “nearby businesses... severely flooded.”
Downtown Van Buren small business owners, who are just a few blocks from the Arkansas River, piled up sandbags at their storefronts.
Daniel Perry owns Attic Treasures in downtown Van Buren. Daniel said he picked up the sandbags from the city and had them ready to go on Saturday to place in front of the store’s doors.
“Just in case it gets bad, we'll be ready,” Perry said. “This is supposed to be the worst one. Even worse than the 1943 flood,” which broke records.
US Army veteran Jeff Gonzagowski owns a screen printing shop in downtown Van Buren and said he hopes that if the flooding does hit his business, that it just stops at the carpet level.
“It’ scary ‘cause this is my really true first year,” Gonzagowski said. “Everybody could lose everything down here. And I don't want that... (my business) is what keeps me going, keeps me motivated to get up every day. Now, we’re just praying. I don’t want it to get up here but that’s not my control.”
The flooding has already submerged local Fort Smith business Quick Discounts near a bridge over the river connecting Fort Smith and Van Buren. Their owner said 19 employees have been out of work, adding that they weren’t able to get much out but have planned on cleaning it out and restocking when the flooding subsides.
On the Fort Smith side, a farm next to Walmart was submerged, as residents drove up to the edge to survey the situation. Rebeca Stewart and Sandra Martinez brought their kids to show them the flooding.
“This is farmland, you're not even supposed to be able to visually see the river right now,” Stewart said. “It’s a lot to take in. It’s scary... I just keep explaining the severity of it to my children... keep everybody in your prayers because they need it and God listens.”
Gonzagowski prints shirts for the military and had two boxfuls of T-shirts ready to ship out to military personnel in Afghanistan.
With it being Memorial Day weekend, Gonzagowski said historic flooding wouldn't stop his traditions, remembering his friends, fellow soldiers and military personnel who died at wartime.
“It’s going to motivate me to be a little bit more—stay optimistic and then remember what that day’s all about,” Gonzagowski said. “I’ve got a lot of friends that aren’t here anymore and there’s thousands and thousands and thousands of souls that were lost at war and this is a time to remember them regardless of a natural disaster. I won't ever forget.”
Gonzagowski has a helmet on display in his store’s front window. It had belonged to his fellow military friend, Sergio, who passed. It’s next to the boxes of shirts ready for those troops.
“That’s Sergio's helmet,” Gonzagowski said. “Yeah, I think he's going to protect this place.”
As of Sunday morning, the Arkansas River at Van Buren was at 37.59 feet. The National Weather Service has predicted continued major flooding and for the river legel to rise to 41 feet over the next few days, which would break the all-time record of 38.1 feet there.