16 dead, dozens missing in Arkansas floods

Frantic searches after Caddo and Little Missouri rivers rise quickly overnight

Published June 11, 2010 6:33PM (EDT)

Flash floods swamped campgrounds along a pair of southwestern Arkansas rivers early Friday, killing 16 and leaving anguished families pleading with emergency workers for help in finding dozens of missing people.

More than 40 people were unaccounted for after the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers rose quickly overnight -- at times faster than 8 feet per hour, said Gary Fox, a retired emergency medical technician coordinating with families to determine who was dead and who had yet to be found.

"This is not a one- or two-day thing," Fox said outside a command post near Langley, along the Little Missouri. "This is going to be a week or two- or three-week recovery."

The Albert Pike Recreation Area, a 54-unit campground in the Ouachita National Forest, was packed with vacationing families, many of them from Louisiana and Texas, Fox said. Two dozen people were hospitalized and another 60 were rescued from the steep Ouachita Mountains valley.

"It's a lot of tragedy. I cannot even imagine what the families are going through," Fox said.

It was unlikely that many of the missing could have left the area on their own after the flood. Fox said nearly everyone lost their vehicles when the floodwaters swept through the recreation area.

Marc and Stacy McNeil of Marshall, Texas, survived the flooding by pulling their pickup truck between two trees and standing in the bed in waist-deep water.

"It was just like a boat tied to a tree," Marc McNeil said, describing how the truck bobbed up and down.

They were on their first night of camping with a group of seven, staying in tents. The rain kept falling and the water kept rising throughout the night, at one point topping the tool box in the back of the truck.

"We huddled together, and prayed like we'd never prayed before." Stacy McNeil said.

By dawn the rain stopped, the water receded and they were able to walk to safety.

Near the command post outside the Langley post office, helicopters landed behind a general store and a triage unit was set up at a volunteer fire department.

Meliea Moore of Hot Springs waited at the general store with her friend whose sister, brother-in-law and niece were missing. They had been staying in a cabin for the past week at the campground.

A center for relatives of the missing was set up at a church in Lodi where dry clothes and food are available to family.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe is heading to Montgomery County, governor's spokesman Matt DeCample said. DeCample said he didn't know exactly where the governor would be in stricken area.

"I'll know when we land," DeCample said.

By Jill Zeman Bleed

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