The Latest: Floods prompt closure of recreational areas

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — The Latest on flooding affecting parts of the United States (all times local):

1 p.m.

Flooding along the Arkansas River has prompted the closure of some outdoor attractions near Bill Clinton’s presidential library in downtown Little Rock.

The Clinton Presidential Center said Thursday that a pedestrian bridge and the Arkansas River trail are closed because of the flooding.

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Photos show the floodwaters encroaching on the wetlands and park surrounding the library.

Significant flooding is expected in Little Rock and North Little Rock as a rush of water heads downstream from Oklahoma and Kansas. The river is projected to crest at Little Rock next week at 29 feet (8.8 meters), which is 6 feet (1.8 meters) above flood stage and considered major flooding.

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11:50 a.m.

Officials in Illinois are asking residents in river communities to prepare for potential evacuations due to the threat of rising floodwaters.

The Illinois Department of Emergency Management said Thursday that reports indicate the state is experiencing the longest-lasting flood since 1927. They attribute it to recent heavy rains that have saturated levees along the Illinois River.

State emergency officials are asking residents of flood-prone river areas to create family evacuation plans. State officials say flooding might not affect homes but could cut off roads. That would make routes impassable to places like hospitals and grocery stores.

Data show there have been 49 deaths in Illinois due to flooding since 1995. Most of those deaths involved people in vehicles trying to cross flooded roads.

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11:40 a.m.

A substantial sandbagging operation is underway against the rising floodwater of the River Des Peres in south St. Louis near the Mississippi River.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Mississippi is expected to hit a near-historic crest in coming days.

The River Des Peres is rising to near street level on one side. On the other, waters above street level are restrained by a small berm.

The News-Press in St. Joseph reports that flooding has closed part of U.S. Highway 36 in Livingston County east of Chillicothe in north-central Missouri.

The Grand River at Chillicothe on Thursday was less than two feet above the all-time crest there.

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11:35 a.m.

The raging Arkansas River is receding in northeastern Oklahoma as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers scales back releases from a hydroelectric dam near Tulsa.

Powerful storms have dropped more than 20 inches of rain on parts of the region over the past month and pushed the Keystone Lake reservoir to record levels. The reservoir drains a watershed of about 22,000 square miles (57,000 square kilometers) in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Corps Lt. Col. Adam Weece said Thursday that releases into the swollen river have fallen from a high of 275,000 cubic feet (7,787 cubic meters) per second Wednesday to 240,000 cubic feet (6,796 cubic meters) per second. Further releases are planned.

Weece says residents of flooded communities will see “a gradual and visible” decline in river levels over the next five days.

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11:30 a.m.

Officials in Arkansas say a weakened levee is holding on after workers scrambled to shore it up ahead of Wednesday’s downpours.

The levee is in rural Crawford County on the western edge of the state, and it’s affected by Arkansas River flooding that is devastating parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown says an 80-foot-wide section of the levee slid down Tuesday morning, but workers were able to reinforce the levee to keep floodwaters at bay.

Brown says the levee is still at risk of failing. If that happens, he says about 250 people and 150 structures are at risk.

Col. Bob Dixon of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says all other levees in Arkansas are in good shape as the river level remains at a historic crest Thursday in western Arkansas. But Dixon says local levee boards should have a plan in place for what to do if a levee fails, because the flooding is expected to persist for days if not weeks.

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10:45 a.m.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has deployed 200 members of the Illinois National Guard to respond to flooding along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

Pritzker on Thursday said another 200 Illinois National Guard members are on standby. He says the flooding is a “grave” and “urgent” situation.

The governor’s action comes as National Weather Service forecasts predict record or near-record crests along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers in the coming week.

The weather service says the Illinois River at Valley City is forecast to crest Monday at 27.3 feet (8.32 meters). The record crest in the tiny village north of Interstate 72 is 27 feet (8.23 meters).

State officials say they’re using 2 million sandbags to hold water back. They say they want to preserve evacuation routes, so priorities include protecting levees and preventing road closures and bridge failures.

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7:30 a.m.

Officials in western Arkansas are carefully watching a levee that’s beginning to deteriorate because of the overflowing Arkansas River.

The Van Buren Police Department says a portion of the levee system in rural Crawford County is “showing signs of significant leakage and deterioration” because of record flows from the river.

The area is near Fort Smith, where historic flooding is occurring because of a rush of water headed downstream from Oklahoma and Kansas.

Police say the Van Buren levee is still functioning but there is a risk of a breach. The National Weather Service predicts the river will remain above record levels in western Arkansas for at least several days.

In Oklahoma, water levels are slowly dropping on the Arkansas River near Tulsa but widespread flooding remains.

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5 a.m.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is activating the Illinois National Guard to respond to recent severe flooding.

Pritzker is holding a Thursday morning news conference at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency in Springfield with Adjutant General Richard Neely and others about the planned activation.

The update comes a day after Madison County in southern Illinois was declared a disaster area and National Guard help was sought to aid in flood-fighting efforts. County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler said the disaster exists due to record-breaking flooding along the Mississippi River.

Emergency management officials say agencies are pre-positioning equipment near levees and the county has sent its sandbagging machine to Alton. High water has forced some bridges across the Mississippi River to close between Illinois and Missouri, causing detours for some motorists.

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