Arkansas authorities officially end search for victims from campground flooding that killed 20

By Andrew Demillo, AP
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Search effort officially ends after Ark. floods

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Authorities on Wednesday officially called off the search for victims of the flash flooding that killed 20 people at a western Arkansas campground last week, shifting their focus to assessing damage and cleaning up debris from the disaster.

Gov. Mike Beebe announced that state agencies had ended their role in recovering victims from Friday’s flash flooding at the Albert Pike Recreation Area in Montgomery County. Police on Tuesday identified the final known victim from the flood.

“While the Forest Service will have sole jurisdiction from here forward, Arkansas stands ready to help if any additional assistance is requested,” Beebe said in a statement released by his office.

State police had already scaled back their search efforts on Tuesday, and a spokesman said the state police mobile command center would leave Thursday morning.

“At this time, there has been no other individual noted who may be unaccounted for,” State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Wednesday.

The U.S. Forest Service said it had shifted its attention to assessing damage from the floods and cleaning up debris. A spokeswoman for the agency said she did not know when the campground would reopen.

“It will likely take a week or so for the initial assessments just to give us a better idea of what kind of damages were caused by the floods,” said Tracy Farley, of the service’s Ouachita National Forest division.

Beebe’s office also said the governor has been in touch with Forest Service officials about potential federal assistance for the victims’ families and for those who assisted with the search efforts.

Lawmakers continued to focus attention on what steps could be taken to better notify campers in remote campsites of impending emergencies.

Sen. Mark Pryor said he planned to meet with Forest Service officials to discuss ways to improve communications. The agency is reviewing how to improve communication after Friday’s flash flooding.

Weather forecasters warned of the flooding four times over the course of an hour. But the campsite did not have a ranger on duty, cell phone service was spotty and weather radio signals did not reach there.

Pryor said the solution may be as simple as warning bells set up at the camp, or an informational campaign.

“My preference would be something simple and low-tech,” Pryor said. “I’ve heard a lot of different ideas over the last few days, but the bottom line is those folks were asleep when this happened and even if they had gotten a radio signal down there … I’m not sure that a lot of them would have heard it.”

Campers would have been told about a flash flood watch posted at midday Thursday, but the flood arrived after 2 a.m. Friday when many were asleep. At times, the Little Missouri River rose eight feet per hour.

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