State police: Death toll from Ark. flash floods reaches 19; 1 person still missing

By Chuck Bartels, AP
Sunday, June 13, 2010

Police: Death toll from Ark. flood reaches 19

LANGLEY, Ark. — State police say the death toll from a flash flood that tore through an Arkansas campground has reached 19 and searchers are looking for just one more missing person.

State Police Capt. Mike Fletcher says one more body was recovered at midday Sunday.

He says searchers are looking for one more person who went missing after the pre-dawn Friday flood swept through the Albert Pike Recreation Area.

Fletcher did not disclose the latest victim’s identity. Sixteen of the 19 people confirmed killed in the flood have been publicly identified.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

LANGLEY, Ark. (AP) — 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.

Eighteen people have been confirmed killed in the pre-dawn Friday flood, and as the search went from one of rescue to recovery, state police downgraded the number of missing from about two dozen to just three. State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said many of those first feared missing are believed to be camping elsewhere, without cell phone service or with their phones switched off.

“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.”

Police have confirmed that the three missing people they’re looking for were camping at the Albert Pike Recreation Area, the section of the Ouachita National Forest hardest hit by flooding, he said.

Floodwaters rose as swiftly as 8 feet per hour, poring through the remote valley with such force that it 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.

After searching most of a 20-mile area down river of the campground on Friday and Saturday, crews focused Sunday on combing 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, and hopes of finding anyone else alive wilted during the weekend of oppressive heat and humidity. Temperatures Sunday reached 90 degrees.

The storm surge leveled trees, forming debris piles that reached up to 30 feet high and snagged articles of clothing and camping gear.

Bud Dunson, the assistant emergency coordinator for Howard County who coordinated Sunday’s search efforts, warned volunteers to use caution when cutting and picking through the listing heaps.

“They can shift and fall on you,” Dunson said.

At the command, “Moki. Go,” a light yellow Welsh Labrador retriever sniffed through a 10-foot pile, occasionally alerting its handler to a flip-flop, propane bottle, toy or shaving kit that still held its owner’s scent, but not finding any bodies. Divers also scoured the river for clues.

Eight of the 16 victims publicly identified were from Louisiana, seven were from Texas and one was from Arkansas.

Among those killed were three people from Texarkana, Texas — 7-year-olds Kylee Sullivan and Gayble Moss, grade-school classmates starting their summer break, and Kylee’s grandmother Julie Freeman, 53.

Gayble’s family told the Texarkana Gazette she was a “flaxen-haired child with the mischievous smile and twinkle in her eyes who flitted among us as a beautiful butterfly we knew and loved.”

Funerals for the three were scheduled for Tuesday in Texarkana.

The Smith and Basinger families of Gloster, La., were vacationing together. Anthony Smith, 30, his 2-year-old daughter, Katelynn, and 5-year-old son, Joey, died in the flood. His wife, Candace, survived.

“I know it is in my mind intellectually, but my heart I don’t feel he’s gone,” Smith’s mother, Nancy Hathorne, told Shreveport, La., television station KTBS. “My heart really hasn’t registered it.”

Kerri Basinger survived the flood, but her husband, Shane, and 6-year-old daughter, Kinsley, died. Their 8-year-old daughter Jadyn remains missing.

Robert “Lynn” Shumake and his 8-year-old grandson, Nicholas Wade Shumake, died and Robert’s wife, Wilene, was still missing Saturday. Robert’s cousin, David Shumake, said the couple frequented the campground and that their grandson spent a lot of time with them.

The only Arkansas victim identified was Leslie Jez, a 23-year-old mother and wife from Foreman whose husband, Adam Jez, was listed among the flood’s survivors.

“So ready to go camping this weekend,” she wrote on her Facebook page Monday. “Kaden is going to love it!!”

Authorities haven’t said whether the child survived.

Associated Press Writer Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock contributed to this report.

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