Young girl is 20th Ark. flash flood victim found Floodwaters rose up to 8 feet per hour, pouring through a valley with such force that they peeled asphalt from roads
By Chuck Bartels
The Associated Press
LANGLEY, Ark. — Crews on Monday found the body of a young girl who was the 20th victim of a flash flood that devastated a popular Arkansas campground, but they continued searching because it wasn't clear whether the girl was the last person reported missing.
Officials had said earlier that they still were looking for a young girl missing from the Albert Pike Recreation Area campground. But State Police Capt. Fletcher said searchers weren't sure if the girl whose body they found was the same one reported missing by her family.
Police will wait to announce the girl's name until her identity is confirmed by dental records or DNA, Fletcher said.
Dozens of people were feared missing after the pre-dawn Friday flood, but authorities narrowed their search Sunday 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.
State police and other agencies were to decide Monday night whether to continue the search Tuesday, spokesman Bill Sadler said.
"We did have some names of individuals whose families did come to us with direct evidence or information of persons present in the park and we believe we have identified all of those individuals in one way or the other," Sadler said.
"Is that to say that there are not any other victims in the Little Missouri River? We can't say that, that is why there is a continuing search and recovery operation under way."
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.
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 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, 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.
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