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Ark. police 'confident' 20th flood victim is last

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

LANGLEY, Ark. -- State police say they're "quite confident" the body of a young girl found Monday is the last one they were looking for after a flash flood swept through an Arkansas campground.

Capt. Mike Fletcher said police want to compare DNA collected from the family to the body before officially identifying the flood's 20th victim.

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.

Fletcher said that although the girl's body is believed to be the last one sought, crews will conduct a limited search today. But it will be scaled back from the hundreds of people who took to the woods and river in the past few days.

A heavy storm sent a wall of water rushing down the river while most campers were sleeping, leaving them scrambling 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 50 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.

"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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