Arkansas River communities scramble to hold historic flooding at bay

Historic flooding along Arkansas River

Every single county in Oklahoma is under a state of emergency, and evacuations are in effect along the flooded Arkansas River as intense rains are straining aging dams and levees. The water in Arkansas has reached 20 feet higher than the flood stage. It's expected to rise as flood waters overtopped two levees southeast of Fort Smith, Arkansas. 

Up and down this Arkansas River, communities are scrambling to hold the water at bay. It's a mission against Mother Nature. National Guard helicopters swooped in yesterday, dropping 4,000 pound sandbags to reinforce strained levees. CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez reports some along the river took matters into their own hands, building makeshift barriers around their homes. 

Flood waters from the swollen Arkansas River are threatening thousands of people from Kansas to Louisiana where the Mississippi River is now beginning to flood. 

Hundreds of people in Sand Springs, Oklahoma had to evacuate when the river's banks swallowed the community. And in nearby Tulsa, more than 1.2 million people are being warned that water released from nearby Keystone Dam could threaten levees built in the 1940s. 

Spring Flooding Oklahoma
This Tuesday, May 28, 2019 aerial photo shows a flooded highway Arkansas River in Sand Spring, Okla. Communities that have seen little rain are getting hit by historic flooding along the Arkansas River thanks to downpours upstream that have prompted officials to open dams to protect some cities but inundate others with swells of water. (DroneBase via AP) / AP

Here in Fort Smith, levees are holding up, but waters are creeping into neighborhoods, like one in Riverlyn Terrace, which can only be accessed by boat. 

"All the houses that are in the neighborhood pretty much have water in them," said Fort Smith resident Jason Baugh. 

Baugh's home is on higher ground, so he's using his boat to help neighbors. 

"What's been the reaction to people that have been helping?" Bojorquez asked.

"They've asked could I take them in the boat and see their house and we've offered storage in our house," Baugh said.

Bill Walker has lived here for about 35 years. "This is the  highest it's ever been," he said. He hired contractors to build a wall to try and keep the creeping floodwaters at bay. 

"It's a bad feeling, but there's, you know, thousands of people just like my wife and I up and down the Arkansas River that are, you know, they've already had to evacuate, so our prayers go out to them," he said.