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Flood warnings were in place, will be reviewed, Ag. Sec. says

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published June 12, 2010 at 3:20 p.m. Updated June 12, 2010 at 5:44 p.m.

Congressional Tour

Secretary of Agriculture and Arkansas congressmen tour disaster area

— Some warnings were in place and working ahead of a flash flood that killed at least 17 people in southwest Arkansas, but officials will review how the deadly storm played out to determine if changes are in order, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Saturday after seeing the disaster area.

The Department of Emergency Management announced that 18 people had been found, but that could not be confirmed by officials at the scene.

Vilsack joined members of Arkansas' Congressional delegation in meeting with victims' families and touring the Albert Pike Recreational Area, where a 20-foot surge in the Little Missouri River sent strong currents into a popular camping spot in a matter of hours early Friday.

Vilsack said people who contacted the U.S. Forest Service prior to camping Friday would have been told of a flood watch. And the service Web site as well as maps handed out to campers advise them to make sure and check weather conditions, Vilsack said.

He noted that the storm Friday "came very, very suddenly" overnight, but said the warning procedures would be reviewed.

"After anything of this nature where there are fatalities of (this) magnitude ... we obviously will take a look at everything that was done to determine if there is a way we could improve on what was done not just here but across the country," Vilsack said. "But there was an effort."

U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who also went on the tour along with fellow U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, said a combination of factors made getting a warning out difficult. Among them, she said the early-morning timing of the storm coupled with the rough terrain made physically finding and warning people challenging. The remote region also has very poor cellular reception.

"It's just a tough area," Lincoln said. "That's one of the reasons people like it. It's a beautiful part of the country, but it's certainly very, very challenging in terms of nature."

The storm, too, caused particularly bad flooding because it stalled over the area, pouring down massive amounts of rain in one spot, Lincoln said.

In addition to seeing the destruction, Vilsack and the Congressional members met with family members of people killed or missing in the flood.

Ross said he assured them "Arkansas and America is praying for them at this time."

"It's devastating," he said of the disaster. "In my district we're used to tornadoes. We're not used to seeing anything like this."

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