A popular off-roading event in Arkansas went on as scheduled even after flood waters sparked a seven-hour search and rescue operation Thursday night into Friday morning.
The Mulberry River near Byrd’s Outdoor Adventure in Franklin County rose more than 10 feet Thursday night, forcing the evacuation of more than 200 campers, according to KHBS-TV, Fort Smith, Ark.
Over 20 people couldn’t escape and found shelter on the roof of an outhouse, and a multi-agency rescue operation turned even more chaotic when three rescue personnel were swept into the river’s strong currents.
One woman said she planned for a weekend adventure riding 4-by-4 trials at Byrd’s campsite. Instead, she and more than 200 others got more than they bargained for.
“I was just praying to God to just take care of all of us,” she said.
“The river came up 8 feet within 20 minutes,” said Bob Bell. He and 24 others — including two children — took shelter on the roof of an out house.
“I just was wondering if it was going to hang in there,” he said.
Bell said the group watched as vehicles and other objects were swept away below them.
“Never under estimate Mother Nature with the power of water,” Bell said.
Two Franklin County emergency personnel and an Arkansas Game and Fish officer were the first to arrive near the scene with a rescue craft.
“Their boat capsized due to the swift current, placing all three of them in the water,” said Deputy John Scott. The men drifted several feet down river but managed to grab a hold of trees rooted in the river, officials said.
Washed out highways prevented additional rescue crews from reaching the men and the campers. A command center was set up at Turner Bend. A helicopter from Benton County was dispatched, but before it arrived, all three men were pulled to safety.
By then, waters had receded enough for the campers to leave the roof.
Two of three rescuers pulled from the river were sent to the hospital for treatment for hypothermia. They were both discharged Friday morning.
After the rescues, officials discovered a propane tank leak at the campsite that was quickly secured.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department said no one was injured.