Monday, June 14, 2010
In Southwest Arkansas, rescuers continue the search Monday for the lone person authorities believe is still missing after flash floods ravaged a campground early Friday morning.
Many of those killed were vacationing from Texas and Louisiana. Two families from Gloster, La. — the Smith and Basinger families — who were camping together were particularly devastated. Candace Smith lost her 30-year-old husband, Anthony, along with 2-year-old Katelynn and 5-year-old Joey. Kerri Basinger also lost her husband, Shane. Six-year-old Kinsley Basinger drowned, and it's their 8-year-old daughter, Jadyn, who remains missing.
Brothers Travis and Ricky Branch, members of the local volunteer fire department and certified divers, spent the morning searching the bottom of the Little Missouri River. The work is treacherous because the river bottom is filled with camping gear and the contents of RVs that were ripped apart by the water, their guts spewed down the river for miles.
Travis Branch says feeling along the bottom, diving into holes, reaching inside of objects they can't see is emotionally draining.
"It's a mess. There's tents, coolers — everything you can think of for campsites," he says. "It's heartbreaking. You know there was people in all that, and you don't know if they're still there."
The water is a cold 60 degrees, and the divers wear wetsuits. They walk, stumble and crawl and swim. On day three of search efforts, the visibility underwater was slowly starting to clear as the river cleaned itself.
Ricky Branch says it is a surreal experience, with danger lurking underfoot and above their heads — sights that are hard to believe.
"One place we just went, there's what's left of like a trailer house, probably 30 foot long. The frame and the floor's there, and the rest of it is up in the trees," he says.
They planned to head back out and continue searching after a short break.
"In the bends of the river — it makes big horseshoe bends and there are deep holes of water. And that's what we're going to start hitting after lunch," Ricky Branch says.
If there is danger for the divers in the river, there's plenty of misery for the searchers on the riverbank who are on foot.
"Trees entwined, vines, bamboo, snakes — I mean, you name it, it's in there," says Rob McMillan, who drove in from Texarkana to help. "You may move a quarter-mile in an hour; you may move a quarter-mile in two or three hours."
One searcher Sunday was overcome by the heat. A rescue then had to be mounted, which was no mean feat because most of this terrain cannot be accessed by motorized vehicles. The searchers work in groups of six with one walkie-talkie between them.
"We kind of stay grouped where we can see each other," McMillan says. "Whatever group we're in, we stay within hollering distance. We had a dog with us yesterday, and that helped a lot."
McMillan has been camping in the Ouachita National Forest for more than 30 years, and he and his wife felt compelled to try to do something for the families who lost so much.
"We just couldn't stand it. We thought of the children, people's families. I've got grandkids, 4 or 5 years old — just anything we can do to give them some kind of closure," he says.