More rain is expected to fall Tuesday on the Arkansas River, which has already reached levels not seen for decades in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
“The levee system is still operating as designed,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said Monday, but he added that could quickly change. “We are asking for everyone to prepare for the worst-case scenario … the worst flood in our history.”
Widespread flooding has already occurred along the Arkansas River in parts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Several times in the past few days, officials have increased the amount of water flowing from the Keystone Dam into the river.
Engineers are trying to prevent the even more catastrophic flooding that could come if the lake overflows its floodgates, the Tulsa World reports. More rain will make that more difficult.
“This is the culmination of a flood that is now in its fourth week,” David Williams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District chief of hydrology and hydraulics engineering, told the newspaper. “I know that it seems like only a weeklong event or so, but we’ve had excessive rainfall in the basin for a month now.”
The Arkansas River has already flooded hundreds of homes in a neighborhood in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, just west of Tulsa. More are expected to be flooded as more water is released from the dam, the Tulsa World reported.
The extra water doesn’t stop in Oklahoma. Farther south in Arkansas, the river is above flood stage in Fort Smith and Van Buren. The river is expected to crest at Van Buren at 42.5 feet about 1 a.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. The previous highest level recorded was 38.42 feet.
The State Highway 59 Bridge was the only crossing on the Arkansas River left open in the Fort Smith area after officials closed the Interstate 540 bridge and the Midland bridge.
Schools in Fort Smith will be closed at least through Thursday, the district announced.
Storms have been deadly
Meanwhile, severe weather and flooding has claimed the lives of 12 people over the past week, including an 81-year-old man killed in a tornado Monday in Celina, Ohio; two people killed in a tornado Saturday in El Reno, Oklahoma; and two people who went missing on May 15.
On Friday, the bodies of John Reinhardt, 20, and 19-year-old Caitlin Frangel, both of Hazelwood, Missouri, were found dead in a car submerged in flood waters near the Mississippi River about 40 miles north of St. Louis, the Associated Press reported.
Trooper Dallas Thompson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said an autopsy determined that they drowned.
Thompson said authorities believe the vehicle became trapped after driving into the flooded area in the dark and the couple was unable to escape, according to the AP report. He added that it’s unclear when the vehicle drove onto the flooded roadway, but that area of St. Charles County has been flooded for several days.
The days-long run of severe storms, tornadoes, heavy rains and flooding had already claimed seven lives, including three who died in a tornado Wednesday in Golden City, Missouri.
Two children were injured when they were hit by a car while playing in flood waters near Wichita Friday evening. Both were taken to the hospital, one in critical condition, KAKE reported.