The past two weeks have been difficult for Arkansas. Tornadoes, damaging winds and flash floods killed more than a dozen of our citizens and caused millions of dollars in damage. Now, historic floods in East Arkansas are endangering our communities, our people and our agriculture.
State government has been working hard throughout these disasters and continues to do so today. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management has been coordinating our response and working to assess the damage and secure federal aid. Arkansas National Guardsmen have been on constant missions providing security, manpower and water. Our Forestry Commission, Parks and Tourism Department, Highway Department and Game and Fish Commission are all helping to respond and protect Arkansans.
Within days of the tornadoes striking Arkansas, FEMA teams were on the ground performing assessments, which led to a presidential disaster declaration for eight counties. We have already requested similar declarations for 49 other counties, and hope to see more federal aid as official damage surveys continue. Because flood waters must recede before further assessments can be completed, it will take time before we know the full extent of the damage.
While Arkansas government's vigilant response to these disasters is a source of pride for our State, the selfless and responsible actions of everyday Arkansans helping one another always provide the greatest inspiration in tough times.
In Washington County, parks officials, local law enforcement and volunteers worked together to safely evacuate Devil's Den State Park before floodwaters inundated campgrounds there. Neighbors helped rescuers locate trapped residents along the Illinois River in Benton County. Businesses, church groups and residents reached out to care for one another after tornadoes struck Garland and Faulkner Counties. Officials in Randolph County received the resources they needed from neighboring counties to combat floodwaters. Volunteers reinforced levees in Jackson County. And in Des Arc, neighbors worked side-by-side in hip waders to fill and lay sandbags to protect their homes, businesses and downtown area from the White River.
We saw historic flooding in East Arkansas in 2008, and I've returned to some of those places for the second time in three years. This year's flood event could be more prolonged because the Mississippi River continues to rise. Rivers in Arkansas, especially the White, could remain backed up for some time. This has already choked off a section of Interstate 40 through East Arkansas, the first time an interstate route through Arkansas has been closed because of high water.
The State of Arkansas will do all it can to help our people through these latest disasters. We are good at responding, because we get too much practice at it. Please do your part and try to help your friends and loved ones who may be affected by the ruthless weather. Monitor the news and heed any evacuation orders. If you have to drive in flooded communities, avoid driving through standing water. As the saying goes, "Turn around, don't drown."
Arkansas always recovers from disasters, and we are often stronger for the experience. This one may last longer than most, but we stand ready to continue our response and take care of our people.