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19th victim found, 1 still missing in campground flash flood

Crews got to work Sunday looking for bodies in the many piles of debris that collected after a flash flood swept through a popular campground. One more victim has been recovered, bringing the total to 19. Searchers are looking for just one more missing camper.

LANGLEY, Ark. (AP) — Crews got to work Sunday looking for bodies in the many piles of debris that collected after a flash flood swept through a popular campground. One more victim has been recovered, bringing the total to 19. Searchers are looking for just one more missing camper.

Authorities haven't been able to contact some of the nearly two dozen people who hadn't been accounted for Saturday, but they don't believe those people were in the Albert Pike Recreation Area, the section of the Ouachita National Forest hardest hit by flooding, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said.

Cell phone service is poor in the area, and authorities fielded calls from worried relatives about at least 73 people who couldn't be reached after the pre-dawn Friday flood that killed at least 18 people. A register that would have showed who was staying at the campground was washed away in the flood.

Crews have searched most of the 20-mile area down river of the campground, so they focused their search effort Sunday on clearing the many tangled piles of debris that collected along Little Missouri River.

Hopes of finding anyone else alive wilted in the oppressive heat and humidity that blanketed the area all weekend. Temperatures Sunday were expected to reach 97 degrees.

In the nearby town of Lodi, the group of anxious survivors and relatives who took sanctuary at a church while waiting for word of missing loved ones had thinned noticeably on Sunday.

Graig Cowart, the pastor of the Pilgrim Rest Landmark Missionary Baptist Church who has tended to them, took them to the campground for a Sunday morning service.

He said Saturday that he planned to read a verse from the Book of Romans that conveys the message that everything comes together for God's good. He said the message could help them in the difficult days ahead.

"You want people to escape for a moment and focus on God, but they're going to return to the reality of what they're here for," Cowart said.

The last time someone was found alive was late Friday morning. Only two bodies were found Saturday as swollen rivers subsided and anguished relatives awaiting word of loved ones grew more and more frustrated, knowing that at some point the search mission would become one of recovery.

"They're just devastated. The time for shock has probably gone and now it's just anxiety building. They're beginning to fear the worst," Cowart said.

Five of the 15 victims identified, including three young children, were from a single Louisiana town, Gloster. Three other victims also were from Louisiana, and six were from Texas.

The only Arkansas victim identified was Leslie Jez, a 23-year-old mother and wife from Foreman whose husband, Adam Jez, was listed among the flood's survivors.

"So ready to go camping this weekend," she wrote on her Facebook page Monday. "Kaden is going to love it!!" She later added: "Not looking foward to that cold water, but sounds like I might change my mind after seeing how hot it's supposed to be."

Authorities haven't said whether the child survived.

Floodwaters rose as swiftly as 8 feet per hour, pouring through the remote valley with such force that they peeled asphalt from roads and bark off trees. Cabins dotting the river banks were severely damaged, and mobile homes lay 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.

About 200 searchers combed some 20 miles of wilderness Saturday searching the thick brush and rivers for survivors and bodies. Experts said many of those killed could be trapped under fallen trees and rocks, and that the water likely won't be clear enough to see through for several days.

The last body found Friday night was retrieved 8 miles downstream from the campground, and authorities Saturday combed the headwaters of Lake Greeson, a large body of water about 20 miles from the camp that would be the furthest any of the bodies could travel.

Tom Collins, a Spring Hill volunteer firefighter, said the debris in the water was frustrating their attempts to recover bodies, and that there were so many fallen trees that it looked like a beaver dam.

"It's just a tangled mess," Collins said.

The search was expected to take several more days, or even weeks.

___

Associated Press writers Justin Juozapavicius in Langley, Tony Winton in the Albert Pike Recreation Area and Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock contributed to this report.

 

©2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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