Twentieth victim found in Arkansas camp flash flood

Crews on Monday found a 20th victim from the Arkansas camp flash flood last week in the Little Missouri River.

AP Photo/Danny Johnston
Volunteer firefighters from Texas and Arkansas search the bank of the Little Missouri River near Langley, Ark., Monday, June 14, 2010. A 20th victim was found on Monday in the Little Missouri River in Arkansas. The search for victims continues Monday after a deadly flash flood swept through a nearby campground early Friday.

Crews on Monday found a 20th victim of a flash flood that swept through a popular campground, but they continued searching because authorities don't know if the body belonged to the last person thought to be missing.

State police declined to identify the victim, who was found floating in the Little Missouri River. But Capt. Mike Fletcher said searchers weren't sure if the body matched the description of the last person they were looking for.

Dozens of people were feared missing after the pre-dawn Friday flood, but authorities on Sunday narrowed their search 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.

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.

By Sunday evening, 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 on 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 of his granddaughter, 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.

"Little Kaden had been up here on my 81st birthday, sitting on my lap with cowboy boots on," said Wade, who spent 18 years as a state lawmaker and introduced the legislation that created the nearby Millwood State Park.


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