20th Ark. flash flood victim found was a young girl, search ongoing

By Chuck Bartels, AP
Monday, June 14, 2010

20th flood victim found in Arkansas was young girl

LANGLEY, Ark. — State police say the 20th victim of a flash flood that swept through a popular Arkansas campground was a young girl. But authorities don’t yet know if she is the last person they were looking for.

Capt. Mike Fletcher says crews found the girl’s body Monday morning.

Officials had said earlier that they still were looking for a young girl missing from the campground at the Albert Pike Recreation Area. But Fletcher says searchers aren’t positive if the girl whose body they found was the same one reported missing by her family.

Fletcher says police will wait to announce the girl’s name until her identity is confirmed by dental records or DNA.

State police spokesman Bill Sadler says searchers will decide Monday night whether to continue the search Tuesday.

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

LANGLEY, Ark. (AP) — Crews on Monday found a 20th victim of a flash flood that swept through a popular campground, but they continued searching because authorities don’t know if the body belonged to the last person thought to be missing.

State police declined to identify the victim, who was found floating in the Little Missouri River. But Capt. Mike Fletcher said searchers weren’t sure if the body matched the description of the last person they were looking for.

Dozens of people were feared missing after the pre-dawn Friday flood, but authorities on Sunday narrowed their search to just one person known to have been camping at the Albert Pike Recreation Area. They said they believe many others first feared missing were camping in other parts of the state, without cell phone coverage.

A heavy storm sent a wall of water rushing down the river while most campers were sleeping, leaving them scrambling in the dark for safety amid the area’s steep terrain.

Floodwaters rose up to 8 feet per hour, pouring through the remote valley with such force that they peeled asphalt from roads. Cabins along the river banks were severely damaged, and mobile homes were tossed on their sides.

Forecasters had warned of the approaching danger in the area during the night, but campers could easily have missed the advisories because the area is isolated and cell phone service is poor.

By Sunday evening, crews had searched some fifty miles of river and tributaries at least twice, and three or four times in some areas, Forest Service Incident Commander Mike Quesinberry said. The terrain made it impossible to bring in heavy equipment to unlock some of the huge debris piles that collected along the river. One measured 30 feet high and more than 100 feet long, he said.

“This is an area that’s so rugged, there’s so much debris … you can’t get to it,” Fletcher said.

Eighteen of the 20 victims have been publicly identified, among them seven children age 7 or younger. Eight of the 18 were from Louisiana, seven were from Texas and three were from Arkansas.

Among the victims were 23-year-old Leslie Jez and her 3-year-old son, Kaden, of Foreman, Ark., and Jez’s 43-year-old mother, Sheri Wade, of New Boston, Texas. Leslie’s husband and Kaden’s father, Adam Jez, survived.

The family set out to the campground on Thursday, a day earlier than normal because of Adam’s work schedule. It was a decision that proved fatal.

“(Kaden’s) only vocabulary when it wasn’t ‘mama’ and ‘daddy’ consisted of tractors and horses,” Leslie’s grandfather, former Arkansas legislator Charles “Bubba” Wade, said Sunday. “I can just see her holding the baby” during the flood, Wade said of his granddaughter, his words choked with grief.

Wade said camping trips and the outdoors were commonplace for his large family. His children and grandchildren went to Boy and Girl Scout events at the campground, and Kaden and Leslie rode horses and rounded up cattle together.

“Little Kaden had been up here on my 81st birthday, sitting on my lap with cowboy boots on,” said Wade, who spent 18 years as a state lawmaker and introduced the legislation that created the nearby Millwood State Park.

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