Editor’s note: As 2011 draws to a close, Seark Today has selected the top 10 regional stories of the year. The criteria used to select these stories were impact, widespread interest, and/or prominence of those involved.

Mississippi River Flood of 2011

Preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, Southeast Arkansas residents along the Mississippi River held their collective breath in the spring of 2011 while officials monitored the levee system that was created to protect lives, homes, businesses and farms from the Mississippi River.

Extensive rainfall during four major storm systems that spawned deadly tornadoes in April coupled with the spring thaw from the upper Midwest resulted in record flooding on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

As the flood surged southward, anxiety remained high in Chicot and Desha counties where residents recalled the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. Rumors of evacuation, blowing up levees, and water spilling over the levee led to near panic, according to Desha County Judge Mark McElroy.

Meanwhile law enforcement and government agencies, including the Arkansas National Guard, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and the Arkansas Forestry Commission, provided round-the-clock monitoring of 70 miles of levees from Pendleton to the Louisiana line and the National Guard sandbagged to shore up the levee system while McElroy held town hall meetings to keep residents updated and try to alleviate fears.

Before it retreated back to below flood stage, the Mississippi River forced emergency measures and caused extensive damage from Cairo, Ill., to South Louisiana.

The flooding was followed by the second hottest summer on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Southeast Arkansas saw extended days of triple-digit temperatures and arid conditions sparking a number of forest fires.