Oklahoma National Guard Helping In Arkansas Flood Relief

Friday, June 11th 2010, 1:41 pm
By: News On 6

By Craig Day, The News On 6  

CADDO GAP, ARK. -- The  Oklahoma National Guard is assisting in efforts to rescue any survivors from deadly flash flooding in southwest Arkansas.

The searched resumed Saturday morning, and officials say the death toll remained at 16 overnight. At least 40 people are still missing.

Oklahoma National Guard spokesman, Lt. Col. Max Moss, said Friday that two OH-58 Kiowa helicopters began providing observation reports from the air to local agencies conducting rescue efforts on the ground at the Albert Pike Recreation Area near Caddo Gap.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe raised the death toll to 20 Friday afternoon, but rolled back that number to 16 Friday evening.  His office says Beebe relied on an erroneous figure after talking to an emergency worker at the scene.  Still, Beebe calls it the "worst disaster" he's seen since taking office.

The rivers swelled from three feet to 24 feet in a matter of hours.

"He called at four this morning and said that he was stranded in the cabin with the two dogs and the river was all around him. he could not get out," said Jan Cox.

Witnesses described a "wall of water" that swept away vehicles, tents and cabins and at least 16 lives.

The Red Cross estimates as many as 300 families were vacationing at the popular Albert Pike Recreation area at the time of the floods. So emergency management officials have launched a massive effort to locate the dozens who are still missing.

"In the process now of trying to see if we have anyone to be rescued along the river there and also in the recovery stage," said Captain Mike Fletcher, Arkansas State Police.

Helicopters searched from the skies, while crews scoured the grounds strewn with debris. It's a mission made more difficult by the remote, rugged terrain and flood-damaged roads.

"What we're faced with, this is a very remote, rugged area here along the little Missouri river," Captain Fletcher said.

Since much of the area is now inaccessible by road, the National Guard is using helicopters to help in the search efforts. Tracy Farley, of the U.S. Forest Service, said the floods eroded some road beds and knocked trees across roads. Crews with bulldozers and chain saws were sent to the area.

But families from Texas to Louisiana are keeping an eye on their progress and sending up prayers for loved ones still unaccounted for.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management has set up a toll-free phone number for relatives of people missing. The number is 888-683-2336 and will be open until on Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.