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At least 4 dead in Arkansas storms; 2 children reported missing; state of emergency declared

by Maggie McNeary | April 30, 2017 at 11:36 a.m. | Updated April 30, 2017 at 5:41 p.m.

At least four people have died after storms brought strong winds and floodwaters to Arkansas, where the governor on Sunday declared a state of emergency.

Officials were also still searching Sunday for two children who disappeared when a car was swept off a bridge.

In a statement noting his emergency order, Hutchinson thanked first responders and offered prayers for "families who lost loved ones in the heavy rain and storms."

“This afternoon I declared a State of Emergency for Arkansas to ensure that we have in place available resources to assist counties affected by last night’s storms," he said. "[The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management] continues to coordinate with counties on damage assessments.”

Numerous roads around the state remained shut late Sunday afternoon because of high water, including U.S. 67/167 in Pulaski County. Officials closed both sides of that highway north of Jacksonville shortly before 12:30 p.m. because of water overflowing from Jacks Bayou onto the roadway.

Those killed after the storms moved through included a 10-year-old girl who was found dead around midnight Saturday after being swept away in floodwaters in Springdale and a 24-year-old woman was found dead Sunday morning after she used an inner tube at a Eureka Springs creek, authorities said. A Fayetteville man was found dead in his vehicle shortly after 9:30 a.m. Sunday after waters receded, authorities said.

And on Saturday, a 65-year-old De Witt woman died when winds blew a large tree through her mobile home.

A fifth person, a fire chief, was killed Sunday morning near the Faulkner-Cleburne county line while “checking water lines on the roadway,” according to the Arkansas State Police. It wasn't immediately clear if that death was tied to the storms.

A 4-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl, meanwhile, were reported missing around 3 p.m. Saturday after the car they were in was washed off a Madison County bridge, according to a news release from the sheriff's office.

The 38-year-old mother and her two children were “stranded in high water” near Hindsville when the water’s current forced the vehicle off of a bridge. The vehicle and the family were taken downstream, the release said.

“The mother attempted to save the children and herself but became separated by the fast current when they exited the vehicle,” authorities said.

The mother was found downstream and treated by EMS, according the the release. The vehicle was found Saturday, but the children were not inside, the release said. Authorities searched for the children until dark and planned to begin searching again at 7 a.m. Sunday.

Flooding in Arkansas

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No updates were available Sunday afternoon. The names of the family were not released Sunday.

In Eureka Springs, the 24-year-old woman was inner tubing with friends in Leatherwood Creek near North Main Street around 9:30 p.m. Saturday when her friends saw her go under a bridge, Fire Chief Nick Samac said. The friends didn’t see her resurface, Samac said, so they called 911. Multiple agencies searched for the woman until 2 a.m.

The fire chief said the woman’s body was seen around 7:30 a.m. Sunday and recovered by 9:30 a.m. By the time she was found, she had been carried about a half a mile downstream, he said.

In Springdale, police received a report around 8 p.m. that a child “had fallen into the water and been swept away” near Pontchartrain Street, according to a Springdale Police Department Facebook post.

The 10-year-old and her younger brother had climbed a fence in their backyard, police said, which “exposed them to rushing waters in a creek bed, which swept away the girl.”

The Springdale Police and Fire Departments notified Washington County Urban Search and Rescue and searched for the girl until around midnight, authorities said.

Her body was found south of her yard near Randall and Lowell Roads, according to the post. She was reportedly pronounced dead at 12:12 a.m.

In De Witt, Julia Schwede, 65, was found with a branch across her torso after a tree crashed through her home, according to a police report.

She was pronounced dead at 7:12 p.m. after the DeWitt Fire Department pulled her from underneath the branch.

The body of John Christopher Vollmar, 76, was found in his vehicle in a field near Arkansas 16 West, according to a Washington County sheriff’s office news release. He was seat-belted inside the car, which was still partially submerged, the release said. Authorities said the area had been flooded due to rain. Vollmar was last seen on video shortly after 4:30 p.m. Saturday, the release said.

The fire chief, identified as Doug Deckard of the Cove Creek Pearson Fire Department, died after being hit by a vehicle around 4 a.m. on Arkansas 25, Arkansas State Police said. The investigation was said to be ongoing.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths in the Little Rock metro area, though agencies there said they responded to multiple water rescues overnight.

Read Monday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.


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