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Rescuers comb Arkansas wilderness looking for flash flood survivors

The Little Missouri River swept through a remote campground, killing 18 people. Officials are unsure how many more may be missing.

June 13, 2010|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

Rescue crews were desperately searching by foot, horseback and kayak Saturday for dozens of people feared lost after a flash flood ravaged an isolated Arkansas campground, killing 18 people.

The flood, which woke campers at the Albert Pike Campground and ripped 5-inch slabs of asphalt from parking lots, barreled through the area about 5:30 a.m. Friday.


UPDATE LANGLEY, Arkansas (AP) -- State police: No more than 3 people still missing in Arkansas campground flash flooding.

The Little Missouri River, popular for rainbow trout and smallmouth bass fishing, was about 20 feet high at one point, said Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe at a news conference Saturday.

Normally, the river is 3 feet to 5 feet deep, said Bill Sadler, a public information officer with the Arkansas State Police Department. It rose to 20 feet in about four hours, according to the National Weather Service.

Saturday's search effort was hampered by the campground's remote location, about 100 miles southwest of Little Rock. Temporary cellphone towers were erected in the area with the hope of contacting missing campers, and approximately 200 rescue workers are combing the Little Missouri River area, Sadler said. Air patrols joined the efforts on the ground and in the water.

The campground, which is sandwiched between two mountains, "filled up like a bowl" during the storm, said Chad Stover, a public information officer with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. The mountainous terrain, dotted with pine and oak trees, has many caverns and rocky nooks where people could be taking shelter, Stover said.

"That's always the hope, that we will find someone who has taken awhile to get out," he said.

The river stretches for about 20 crooked miles, and courses through hilly terrain dense with vegetation. Parts of the campground aren't organized areas where people check in before camping.

"We have no direct information on who was in the park at the time," Sadler said.

Instead, officials are relying on clues, such as what cars were parked near the site. A phone line was also established for relatives to call if they suspect family members were caught in the flood.

Beebe toured some of the ruined campsites and met with survivors and victims' families Saturday. "I've seen flooding before, but I've never seen water do this kind of damage," Beebe said in a statement on his website.

Although Beebe deemed rescue efforts "valiant," he added that he was saddened when he saw a stroller among the debris.

About six of the victims were younger than 7 years old, according to a list released by officials. Campers who were killed came from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

Leslie Jez, 23, a mother of one from Foreman, Ark., was the only Arkansas victim identified. On her Facebook page, she had written: "So ready to go camping this weekend! Kaden is going to love it!!"

Rescue efforts could last for days, Sadler said. "It looked like a tornado had gone through the area," he said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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