LANGLEY, Ark. – Anxious family members toured the campground Sunday where their loved ones were staying when they were swept away by a flash flood, allowed 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 to 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 pre-dawn Friday flood. Searchers recovered one body Sunday in a debris pile, and State Police Capt. Mike Fletcher said that one person remained missing. He didn’t say whose body was found, and said earlier police reports that three people were missing were incorrect.
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 cell phone range, he said.
“Typically when people go on vacation or camping trips, they want to turn those cell phones off,” Sadler said. “That’s the reason they’re on vacation.”
Floodwaters 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 likely 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 more than 50 miles of rivers and tributaries at least twice since Friday, and three or four times in some places, Forest Service Incident Commander Mike Quesinberry said Sunday. On Sunday, crews used bulldozers and chain saws to look through the tangled piles of debris that lined the banks of the Little Missouri River.
The last time someone was found alive was late Friday morning.