A Year After the Albert Pike Campground Disaster
A year has passed since a flash flood killed 20 people at a southwest Arkansas campground, and the area where the deadly incident occurred and the people close to the victims continue to deal with the aftermath.
The U.S. Forest Service is still working out a plan for how to allow visitors to resume use of the Albert Pike Recreation Area campground in the Ouachita Mountains. And some, like Aaron Sultz, who lost loved ones are trying to move forward while also reflecting on that day and their feelings of loss.
Sultz told the Texarkana Gazette that he has felt a lot of emotions about the death of his twin brother, Eric, who was among the victims of the June 11, 2010, flood. Sultz said he hasn't felt anger, though.
He remembers the incident like it just happened. He said he was running an errand when a friend called and said his brother had been found dead.
"I said, `You are telling me that Eric is supposed to be dead.' It seemed unreal," Sultz told the newspaper.
Eric Sultz, 38, who had moved to Nash, Texas, from Porterville, Calif., was camping with his girlfriend, Sherri Wade, and her children and grandchild. Wade and two of the children were also killed.
"We were told he had been trying to help an older lady he didn't even know. And that would have been his mentality," Aaron Sultz said. "He would have done everything he could have to help someone else who needed it."
The flood struck in the middle of the night during an intense rainstorm, sweeping away vehicles, RVs and camper trailers that were at the campground along the Little Missouri River. They tumbled through the rush of water with uprooted trees and segments of asphalt that were ripped from the ground by the torrent.
The victims, who had no warning of what the storm would bring, were from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. Seven children were among the dead.
Sultz said he planned to return to campground for the anniversary. He said he's not upset with the U.S. Forest Service for having no warning system in place to give his brother and the campers time to get to higher ground. The Forest Service issued a report that said the lack of a weather warning had doomed the victims.
"Eric had some health problems and he was in some pain," Sultz said. "He was looking at years of pain. It turned out this was the way he was supposed to go. I miss him but I'm not angry."
The Forest Service is exploring how the popular camping area could reopen. Forest Service spokeswoman Debbie Ugbade said the public will be invited to a meeting this summer to explore ways the site could be used again.
"The long-term needs for visitor safety at the site will be considered as part of the analysis," Ugbade said.
Since the flood, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration installed a transmitter so National Weather Service broadcasts can be received at the campground, but there is still no mobile phone coverage.
The stretch of river has reopened for fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
Ugbade said the Forest Service will develop ways the site can be put to fuller use. A final decision isn't expected until sometime in 2012.
U.S. Rep Mike Ross, D-Ark., whose district includes the Albert Pike area, said he has had repeated meetings with Forest Service officials. His main concern is safety.
"I want the experts to make the decision about a warning system and if (the campground) should be placed at a higher elevation in the recreation area," he said. "I don't want a decision to be rushed. I want us to get the decision right so another life is not lost."