The swollen Arkansas River, fed by hard rains and overflowing lakes and reservoirs in Oklahoma, pushed relentlessly through Arkansas on Saturday, inundating homes in its path toward the Mississippi River.
Gary Talley, spokesman for Arkansas Emergency Services in Little Rock, said the river was expected to cause serious flooding through Tuesday as flood crests move downstream from the Ft. Smith-Van Buren area on the Oklahoma border.
"We are preparing for the worst flooding in 17 years, since 1973," Talley said.
Weather officials said the river will crest 5 feet above flood stage at Little Rock, and flooding could be extensive near Pine Bluff.
Elsewhere, heavy rains subsided in Texas, where floodwaters inundated more than 2,300 homes.
Two weeks of heavy rains and thunderstorms in Oklahoma and Texas took their toll in death and destruction in those states, and Oklahoma began opening its swelling lakes and reservoirs along the Arkansas and Red rivers earlier this week.
Talley said the Arkansas River crested Saturday in Ft. Smith at 14 feet above flood stage, and 52 homes were under water there. He said the river was rising 2 inches per hour as it moved downstream toward Pine Bluff, 35 miles south of Little Rock, and will flood at each point along its route.
Many people in Ft. Smith were accusing Oklahoma of "stupidity" for releasing too much water, but Talley disagreed.
"Those people who were complaining were citizens, not state officials. They, frankly, are misinformed or don't really understand what the problem is. There is no question in my mind but that Oklahoma held as much back for as long as they could. Oklahoma and Texas had record rains. If anybody was hit harder than us, it was Oklahoma and Texas."
The spell of heavy rains left thousands of acres of north Texas under water, and the flooding has been blamed for 11 deaths, authorities said. The Red Cross, in a preliminary survey, said 717 homes were destroyed and 1,600 others were heavily damaged. Sixteen counties have been designated federal disaster areas.
Although a slow fall of the floodwaters began Saturday in north Texas, the National Weather Service at midday issued a flash flood warning for parts of four counties south of Dallas on the Trinity River. Levees in those areas broke late Thursday and Friday due to strong currents and high water, and the weather service said there could be more levee failures.
Preliminary estimates from the city of Dallas placed property damage and cleanup costs at more than $10 million, said Earnie Taft of the Dallas Office of Emergency Preparedness.