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400 Campers Evacuated from Oklahoma Park

April 9, 2012 by · Comments Off on 400 Campers Evacuated from Oklahoma Park 

Turner Falls, Davis, Okla.

More than 400 campers were evacuated Sunday from Turner Falls Park in Davis, Okla., after a flash flood.

About noon, campers gathered their personal belongings and left the campgrounds, but many vehicles remain stranded, American Red Cross spokesman Rusty Surette said.

No injuries were reported, the Oklahoma City Oklahoman reported.

Of the 400 evacuees, about 75 of them were expected to stay overnight in the Murray County Expo Center near Sulphur, Surette said. Many campers are from Texas and arranged to be picked up, he said.

Davis is a town of 2,500 located 60 miles south of Oklahoma City.

Turner Falls was the only area affected by the flash flood, Surette said, but power outages were reported in the area when storms rolled through.

 

 

 

Newspaper Takes Government to Task on Flood Deaths

June 22, 2010 by · Comments Off on Newspaper Takes Government to Task on Flood Deaths 

Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in today’s (June 22) issue of the Wheeling News-Register, Wheeling, W. Va.

Once the public outcry over disasters subsides and after the photo-ops and sound-bite opportunites are over for politicians, their interest in avoiding similar tragedies in the future begins to lag. That was the case after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans; work to repair and improve levees there still has not been completed. It probably will be the situation along the Gulf Coast in a few months, once the news media’s interest in the oil spill there lapses.

The federal government’s failure to view protection from disasters as an emergency may well have caused some deaths earlier this month in Arkansas.

There, 20 people died when a flash flood roared through campgrounds. Campers had little or no warning the weather had turned deadly.

Such warnings are one reason why the National Weather Service (NWS) maintains a special radio network. It is used to broadcast warnings of severe weather such as that responsible for the Arkansas flooding.

But the flooded campgrounds were not in range of an NWS radio tower. The agency’s original tower for that area was destroyed two years ago by Tropical Storm Ike. A temporary, low-power tower with a range of only a few miles was erected. According to a published report, the NWS says “a lease agreement has gotten in the way of a more powerful, permanent tower.”

We understand that legal questions can stall such projects. But two years? Surely, had someone in the government taken the matter more seriously, the weather radio tower could have been replaced sooner.

According to one report, four warnings of flash flooding were broadcast during the hour before the campground was destroyed. Again, however, no one in the affected area heard the broadcasts.

Arkansas officials want their state’s delegation in Congress to do something about warning people in isolated areas about severe weather conditions. Last week The Associated Press reported that Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., planned to meet with U.S. Forest Service officials to discuss warning systems at sites such as campgrounds in the Albert Pike Recreation Area, where the fatal floodding occurred. “Pryor says the solution may be as simple as warning bells or an informational campaign,” the AP reported.

What about simply expediting work on the NWS radio tower? And what about a congressional investigation into whether other government disaster warning systems in the United States are functioning properly?

This isn’t a matter of partisan politics. It is one of life and death. Members of Congress should insist that the NWS and other agencies view it that way.

Flood Victim Search Ends; Death Toll Remains at 20

June 17, 2010 by · Comments Off on Flood Victim Search Ends; Death Toll Remains at 20 

State authorities have officially called off the search for victims at the Albert Pike Campground in western Arkansas campground where 20 people were killed by flash flooding on June 11, KFSM-TV, Fort Smith, Ark., reported.

The state police mobile command center is expected to leave today (June 17). Officers had already scaled back their search efforts on Tuesday after the 20th victim was identified.

“It was constantly reassuring to see state, federal and local agencies coordinate so well in the face of such a shocking disaster,” Gov. Mike Beebe said today in a press release from his office. “While the Forest Service will have sole jurisdiction from here forward, Arkansas stands ready to help if any additional assistance is requested.”

All victims of the flash flood along the banks of the Little Missouri River in Montgomery County appear to be accounted for. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management is working with the U.S. Forest Service and local authorities

Scientists Study Arkansas Campground Flood Site

June 16, 2010 by · Comments Off on Scientists Study Arkansas Campground Flood Site 

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey spent Tuesday (June 15) investigating the rural Arkansas campground where a massive pre-dawn flash flood killed 20 people.

The researchers were working to determine how high and how fast the water moved when it poured into the Albert Pike Recreation Area in southwest Arkansas early Friday. Flood specialist Robert Holmes said it will take scientists a few weeks to calculate the flow rate, based on the information gathered Tuesday at the campground, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“It’s almost like being a detective, trying to figure out how high the water got,” he said.

Holmes said scientists found the flooding wasn’t consistent throughout the campground.

“We had extremes in some of the campsites,” he said. “There was probably 5 to 10 feet of water to 15 feet of water, depending on where they were at.”

State police spokesman Bill Sadler said Tuesday that the 20th victim, a young girl whose body was found Monday, had been positively identified, but authorities were still trying to reach her family before releasing her name. State police have said it’s unlikely there are any more victims but that they can’t yet be certain.

Sadler said the problem was authorities were unable to compile a reliable accounting of who was at the campground early Friday, so they want to make sure there are no bodies of people not previously known to have been in the area. Sadler said state police would “maintain a presence and a continuing search-and-recovery effort for the next several days, (though) somewhat scaled back.”

“We want to check vehicles that are still in the water, check license numbers and VIN numbers,” Sadler said, to see if they can be tied to victims or belong to someone not previously known to have been at the site.

State police released the name of the 19th and 20th victims Tuesday — Wilene Shumake, 67, of DeKalb, Texas, and Jadyn Basinger, 9, of Gloster, La. Shumake’s husband and their grandson also died in the flooding, as did Jadyn’s brother and father.

Authorities said they believe many people first feared missing were camping in other parts of the state, without cell phone coverage.

Flooding Threat Closes Missouri Campground

June 15, 2010 by · Comments Off on Flooding Threat Closes Missouri Campground 

The death toll of last week’s deadly flooding in a western Arkansas campgrounds stands at 20, but heavy rains threaten other campgrounds in the region.

Six of the dead were children and all but two of the victims came from out of state to camp in the national forest campsite hit by a deluge, ABC News reported.

Torrential rain caused flash flooding to sweep through the camp site during the dead of night, sweeping away victims who had been sleeping.

Police spokesman Bill Sadler says rescue workers do not expect to find any more bodies.

“We have satisfied ourselves that these people have been accounted for,” he said.

But Sadler says a search and recovery mission is continuing for other recreational visitors who may have been in the park last Thursday night, but for whom police have no firm leads.

Meanwhile, Missouri Emergency Management has closed the campground at Big Lake State Park in northwest Missouri as a precautionary measure, according to OzarksFirst.com.

That’s because of its proximity to the Missouri River and heavy rainfall in northwest Missouri.

State Emergency Management is monitoring the weather forecast, working with and assisting local agencies.

The park, however, will remain open for day use, as will the park’s cabins, which are at higher elevations than the campground and removed from flood risk.

SEMA and the Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks will continue to monitor river levels near Big Lake State Park so that further action may be taken if necessary and so that the campground can be reopened once the river has receded.

The State Emergency Management Agency is monitoring potential flooding conditions in cooperation with county and local emergency managers.

SEMA is also monitoring the latest National Weather Service forecasts.

Flash floods have moved on to Oklahoma City, trapping people in cars and closing sections of major highways.

Oklahoma City spokeswoman Kristy Yager says the flooding has closed streets and crossings in the city.

“Downtown is practically impassable. There are traffic lights out and it’s very dangerous to be driving there right now,” she said.

Slow moving thunderstorms dumped 25 centimetres of rain on the city, overwhelming the sewer system and flooding portions of roads, leaving some motorists trapped in their cars, and forcing others to abandon their vehicles.

And the Associated Press reported that with the recovery of the 20th and perhaps last victim from flash floods in Arkansas, attention is turning to whether visitors to a remote campground received sufficient warnings about an approaching wall of water.

Worried forecasters sent warnings four times in an hour early Friday. But the Albert Pike Recreation Area in Montgomery County has no sirens, no park ranger on site, poor radio reception and spotty cell phone service.

The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing how to improve communication to remote camp sites in Arkansas and around the country.

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.

Camper Relates Harrowing Escape from Floodwaters

June 14, 2010 by · Comments Off on Camper Relates Harrowing Escape from Floodwaters 

Sachse, Texas, resident Terry Whatley was staying with about 35 friends and relatives at the Albert Pike Recreation Area in western Arkansas Friday morning when the waters began to rise.

He awoke about 3:30 a.m. to the frantic pounding on his camper door. A neighbor ran to each campsite that morning, alerting other campers of the rapidly rising water that would kill three members of his party, according to the Dallas Morning News.

“When I stepped outside, there was water 5 or 6 inches deep,” Whatley told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Within a matter of minutes, it was up to my waist.

“By the time I got my mother and nephew out, it was already up neck-deep just about and moving, from what I understand, 45 to 50 mph.”

Whatley, a high school golf coach, tried to reach higher ground as the rushing water threatened to sweep them away. With his mother at his side, he told her to remain calm and try to ignore her deathly fear of the water.

“There was two or three times where I just about lost her,” Whatley said. “You kind of think to yourself, ‘Wow, this is not really how I planned to leave this earth.’ ”

Whatley was able to rescue his mother and nephew.

His 24-year-old son, Matt, and a friend, J.D. Quinn were sitting on the porch of a nearby cabin as the water rose. They tried to warn others in cabins and campers.

“You couldn’t hear anything. Just lumber and houses being destroyed and trees ripping,” Quinn said.

The torrent was so fierce that some residents called the flood an act of the devil.

“You have to have a lot of faith. That’s what gets you through times like this,” Terry Whatley said. “I’m able to tell my kids and my wife that I love them. There are some parents out there who can’t do that.”

Body Search Continues in Arkansas Campground

June 14, 2010 by · Comments Off on Body Search Continues in Arkansas Campground 

Search crews canvassing dozens of miles of muddy, rugged vegetation in scorching heat and humidity on Sunday (June 13) recovered a 19th victim of last week’s deadly flash floods that flushed out the Albert Pike campground in western Arkansas, and officials said they were not certain how many people might still be missing, according to The New York Times.

The authorities have confirmed that one person who was at the campground had not been found, but there were still unconfirmed reports of others who might be unaccounted for, Capt. Mike Fletcher of the Arkansas State Police said at an afternoon news briefing.

Confusion over how many were missing has been caused by numerous calls from people who said they had not heard from loved ones but were not sure if they had been camping in the area when raging water from the Little Missouri River swept in under the cover of night early Friday, Fletcher said.

Estimates on the number of people who may be missing have fluctuated widely. On Friday, just hours after the search and rescue operation began, it was put at 24.

“We just don’t know,” Fletcher said. “We’re just going to continue to search as long as we feel like there’s someone in there.”

One impediment to the search effort, he said, is the thick debris that needs to be removed in some areas before a thorough search can be conducted. Fletcher did not rule out the possibility of finding survivors, although none have been found since Friday.

Some anxious family members of those caught in the flood got to see the damage firsthand on Sunday morning. Forest Service officials escorted about 25 members of two extended families into the campground, which is in the Ouachita National Forest.

Each family had lost a relative in the flood and one family member was still missing, said the Rev. Graig Cowart of Pilgrim Rest Landmark Missionary Baptist Church in Lodi, Ark., who accompanied the group.

The riverside campground, a place of fond memories for generations of families, is now a wasteland, littered with wrecked campers, flattened trees and displaced slabs of asphalt roadway. For two hours, the families took it all in, went through possessions and retrieved pictures of children and keepsakes like baby blankets.

“It was for them just to go and have a little time,” Cowart said. “It’ll help with their closure as they move forward and reflect and they can see where they were at. It was just a heart-wrenching experience, but at the same time I think they received a little solace. They could understand it a little better.”

Cowart, unshorn after three days of ministering to the families that have taken refuge in his church’s activities building, said the damage looked as if it had been caused by “a tornado that just hung around.” It made him appreciative, he said, that there had not been even more deaths.

Cowart and Forest Service officials praised local residents and companies for providing more food and supplies than the families could possibly use. Wal-Mart, he said, had sent a truck with ice and bottled water. An appliance store delivered portable freezers.

“We’ve had local people here drive up with checks they’d signed blank,” Mr. Cowart said.

The church canceled its regular Sunday service, but Cowart said he would share a private devotional with the families on Sunday night.

Forest Service officials said they began letting residents return to their houses in the area on Sunday, and they started towing damaged vehicles out of the campground. Fletcher said that 18 vehicles had been towed and that officials were still matching the license plate numbers to the owners. Two mangled pickup trucks were carted past the rescue command post at a gas station in Langley.

The authorities ratcheted up their search efforts on Sunday, using dogs, horses and divers. The 19th body was recovered about half a mile south of Albert Pike around noon, Fletcher said. Mike Quesinberry, who was overseeing the search operation for the federal Forest Service, said crews had searched around 50 miles of waterway at least twice.

Vynn Stuart, who runs a dog search team called Four States Search and Rescue, was on her second day traveling through the jagged brush amid swarming mosquitoes.

Guiding a German shepherd tethered to a long neon orange leash, Stuart, who lives about 90 minutes away in Little River, came across numerous signs of devastation some eight miles south of Albert Pike: uprooted trees, a tipped-over canoe, and plastic chairs and a table. Sticks, dirt and other debris wrapped around trees like twine lashing together sticks. A grassy, open field was like a muddy marsh in parts.

Stuart, who has been working on rescue operations for 17 years, said her team had to cut its search short because of the severe heat.

“It’s been really challenging,” she said. “The debris is so bad. It’s so hot and humid. Snakes are everywhere. We had bear tracks in our area, so we have to keep our eyes out for that. It’s just the worst thing that’s happened.”

Flash Floods Kill A Dozen Campers in Arkansas

June 11, 2010 by · Comments Off on Flash Floods Kill A Dozen Campers in Arkansas 

Map shows the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas where at least 12 campers were killed in flash floods early today. Little Rock, Ark., is at far right side of map. The Oklahoma-Arkansas border is the green vertical line in the center of map. Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

Flash floods triggered by more than a half-foot of rain wiped away campsites along a pair of southwestern Arkansas rivers early today (June 11) the Associated Press reported.
State police said a dozen people were killed and several others were stranded.

The normally peaceful Caddo and Little Missouri rivers rose by 20 feet overnight, swamping hikers and campers spending the night in the remote and normally serene Ouachita Mountains. The area also includes second homes, hunting camps and U.S. Forest Service campgrounds.

“We don’t know who was in there last night,” State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said. “This is a very wide area.”

Sadler said officials were moving in a refrigerated truck to set up a temporary morgue. Searchers were working along the Little Missouri River in Montgomery and Pike counties and the National Guard dispatched helicopters to help in the rescue.

Sadler said 12 people had been killed in the floods.

Gov. Mike Beebe, in Dumas for an economic develop announcement, said the deaths occurred about 5:30 a.m., when the water hit its peak. He said he did not plan to visit the site immediately.

“I don’t want to get in the way,” Beebe said. “There is an intense search-and-rescue attempt.”

The Little Missouri west of Caddo Gap stood at 3 feet Thursday but after 7.6 inches of rain fell in the area overnight the level jumped to 23.5 feet by Friday morning. At 10 a.m. it had dropped to 11.5 feet.

The damage was centered around the Camp Albert Pike area, 75 miles west of Little Rock.

Rainfall totaled 7.6 inches at Glenwood, a weather reporting station about 20 miles from the scene, according to data from the National Weather Service at North Little Rock. Marty Trexler, a senior meteorologist, said heavy rain fell throughout the region before moving into northern Arkansas later Friday morning.

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