Families visit site of deadly Ark. flash flood
1 person missing, 19 confirmed dead near campground
LANGLEY, Ark. — Anxious family members toured the campground yesterday where their loved ones were staying when they were swept away by a flash flood, to see for themselves the steep terrain that made escaping the rising water in darkness so difficult.
About 20 people from two families were brought to the site, the only people still remaining at a nearby church to wait for word of the missing. Rescue commanders helped the families find their loved ones’ campsites and gather heartbreaking mementos, including baby pictures and a child’s blanket.
“It’s just overwhelming for them. It looks like a war zone here,’’ said the church’s pastor, Graig Cowart, who accompanied the group.
As the search went from one of rescue to recovery, 19 people had been confirmed killed in the predawn Friday flood.
Searchers recovered one body yesterday in a debris pile, and State Police Captain Mike Fletcher said that one person remained missing. He didn’t say whose body was found, and disputed as incorrect some earlier police reports that three people were missing.
Many people first feared missing are now not believed to have been camping at the Albert Pike Recreation Area, the part of Ouachita National Forest hardest hit by flooding, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said. Those people are believed to be camping elsewhere in the state, out of cellphone range, he said.
“Typically when people go on vacation or camping trips, they want to turn those cellphones off,’’ Sadler said. “That’s the reason they’re on vacation.’’
Flood waters rose as swiftly as 8 feet per hour, pouring through the remote valley with such force that they peeled asphalt from roads and bark off trees. Cabins dotting the river banks were severely damaged, and mobile homes lay on their sides.
Forecasters had warned of the approaching danger in the area during the night, but campers could easily have missed those advisories because the area is isolated.
Most campers were asleep when the Little Missouri River flooded, and by the time they awoke it was probably too late for many. At 2 a.m., the campground was under 4 feet of water, and by 5 a.m., it was under 23.4 feet.
Crews have searched over 50 miles of rivers and tributaries at least twice since Friday, and three or four times in some places, said Mike Quesinberry, forest service incident commander. Crews used bulldozers and chain saws yesterday to look through the tangled piles of debris that lined the banks of the Little Missouri.
The last time someone was found alive was late Friday morning, and hopes of finding anyone else alive wilted in the oppressive heat and humidity.
Eight of the 16 victims publicly identified were from Louisiana, seven were from Texas, and one was from Arkansas.