Clarendon, Ark. Arkansans sandbagged their front doors and pumped out their flooded basements Wednesday as a historic crest on the White River moved downstream, and a flooding expert said the state will have to deal with high water for weeks.
Residents and county officials along the river's path in east-central Arkansas worried that the river flows would hit an already swollen Mississippi River on the state's eastern border and flow back into their cotton and wheat fields.
"I don't think anybody knows how much higher it's going to get," Monroe County resident Marlin Reeves said as overcast skies threatened rain. Forecasters predicted a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms hitting the Arkansas prairie by Friday.
Heavy rains filled major rivers in northern Arkansas early last week, flooding communities as the water moved downstream. Two people remain missing after the storms.
Gov. Mike Beebe declared 39 counties - more than half the state - disaster areas, while President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration for 35 counties on Wednesday.
National Weather Service hydrologist Steve Bays said the high waters will continue to threaten communities in Arkansas for weeks.
The weather service expected the White River to crest over the weekend at 33.5 feet, 7 1/2 feet above flood stage and more than a foot higher than it was Wednesday afternoon.
But water will remain on some roads and highways and in some homes into mid-April, as well as cover cropland into May or beyond, Bays said.
"The river's going to be out of its banks for a prolonged period of time," Bays said.
Outside of Des Arc, water from the White River began springing up in new places Wednesday along a rural levee north of Interstate 40. The day before, volunteers used sandbags to hold back the "sand boils" - muddy springs that develop when water passes underneath the earthen barriers.
Loy Hamilton, area commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' effort on the White River, said workers on Wednesday put 50-gallon barrels on top of the teapot-size sand boils to build pressure to stanch the flow.
"Right now, they're all flowing clear, which is ideal," Hamilton said, explaining that seeing silt in the water would mean the levee is being degraded from beneath. "If you shut it off, it just forces it around to another hole."
The levee will remain under 24-hour watch as long as the waters remain high, Hamilton said.