DARDANELLE, Ark. -- Historic floods have already devastated this city -- but it could get worse before it gets better.
As of Wednesday morning, the city was officially experiencing its largest flood on record, at 44.13 feet. State highways inside the levee have already been flooded, around 5,000 acres of farmland and a wildlife management area is partially flooded.
The National Weather Service is forecasting that the water could keep rising and “serious flooding expected.”
All of this has prompted residents and local, state, and federal agencies to come together to figure out how to best prepare for more flooding.
“We're a state of three million people and wherever there is an issue or problem, everyone in the state helps to pitch in,” said Carl E Geffken, Fort Smith city administrator.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had a sandbag machine in Dardanelle over Memorial Day weekend, cranking out thousands of sandbags for the community.
Ken George lives about three-fourths of a mile from the river and has a levee that goes around his property, but it breached. So, he got some sandbags to fill in the holes.
“Apprehensive, a little bit scared, “ George said. “It continues to rise and I’m plugging holes in my levee and hoping that my fields don't flood…it’s a scary situation. I’m hoping for the best but it could be worse than I ever imagined.”
Bobby Everett has had his home for 42 years about a mile from the river and picked up sandbags carrying them home in a trailer attached to his pickup truck. He said he was nervous.
“I hope and pray nothing happens but I've just got to be sure. I'm taking care of my family and make sure we've got things out of the way because it's just a home,” Everett said.
Tony Ring is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operation and maintenance staff member who helped run the sandbag machine. He’s worked at other disasters before, including helping out during Hurricane Michael and other hurricanes in Florida and Texas. Ring encourages people to stay prepared, listen to the local news, make sure they know the forecast and stay off the river.
“Usually those disasters, we come in right after the disasters,” Ring said. “Everything's already torn up. Here, everything looks fine. A couple of days, who knows, it could be bad.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has had to work on the fly figuring out how the Dardanelle Dam, which isn’t designed for floods, can manage if the water continues to rise. Agency officials said they’ve raised all the gates to allow the water to flow through.
“The Dardanelle Lock and Dam is a navigation lock and dam, it’s primary purpose is for navigation, it’s not for flood control…the water is exceptionally high and this is a very rare circumstance to have the water this high,” said Paul Owen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers southwestern division commander brigadier general. "...we don’t really have the ability to hold back water to deal with flood conditions.”
An hour and 20 minutes up the river, in Fort Smith, the Arkansas River at Van Buren was at 40.26 feet on Wednesday morning, breaking the record as well.
Melody Daniel was brought from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management to help out.
“Arkansas is very resilient, our communities and our citizens, they care so deeply about one another,” said Daniel, a public information officer. “We’ve had numerous reports come in about neighbors helping neighbors. Some of these rural communities that are agriculture communities, people helping people move their livestock from point A to point B to protect that livestock. Even here in the bigger cities where it’s not as rural, you’re seeing people help their neighbors get out of harm’s way.”
Volunteers at First Baptist Church in Fort Smith helped pass out food, as community businesses helped cook the food at another location. Associate Pastor Eric Ramsey mentioned when schools were closed, it meant many kids weren't getting lunches since about 70 percent of the neighborhood is on free lunch programs.
"We have the privilege of being able to serve the community and that's what it's about," Ramsey said.
Manuel Ordonez, a Fort Smith resident and teacher, said about 500 volunteers have shown up over the past few days to help. People from high school sports teams, churches, community organizations, all came together to bag sand for those whose homes are by the river.
One of those volunteers was Tina Price, who showed up with her family.
“We knew something had to be done and we decided as a family to do something different, to come out and help instead of just…walking around, looking at the water rise. We wanted to come out and help because these are our neighbors,” Price said. “This is our family that needs help.”
Ordonez said people are hopeful the area will quickly bounce back.
"I’m very happy to be here and help my community,” Ordonez said. “I encourage everybody to come and help us because this is the time that as a city we need to come together and help each other. And with the help of God, we're gonna make it.”