Survivor of Arkansas flood recalls nightmare

At 2:30 a.m. on June 11, Luling residents Pat and Tainia O’Malley awoke to a nightmare.

The two were camping with friends at the Albert Pike campground in Arkansas when a heavy rain caused the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers to rise by 20 feet overnight. The campground was quickly inundated with water, which overturned vehicles and campers and left many fighting for their lives.

Twenty people were killed in the flooding including Luling residents Kay Roeder, 69, her son Bruce Roeder, 51, and daughter-in-law Debbie Roeder, 51.

The O’Malleys, who were good friends with the Roeders, were among the lucky survivors.

“We are counting our blessings because we came within seconds of what could have been life or death,” Pat said.

The O’Malleys were sleeping in their camper, which was parked about 20 feet above the river, when they were startled out of their slumber by a horn. It turns out one man had seen the rising water and rushed to his truck in order to alert nearby campers.

“We heard the horn at 2:30 a.m. and noticed water on the floor of the camper,” Pat said. “At first we thought there was a leak in the roof, but when we went outside, we saw that the camper was actually floating.”

The O’Malleys got outside just in time to see one of their vehicles float down the river. They were shocked to see how fast the water was rising.

“The man who had gotten in his truck to alert everyone was able to get his cousin and her daughter into his truck, but in the little time it took him to do that and drive away, water was already up to his hood,” Pat said.

The O’Malleys were camping in one area of the campground with Terri Roeder and some other friends, while Kay, Bruce, Debbie and Tara Roeder were camping across the river.
The O’Malleys and their group had to find each other in the darkness.

“There was some lighting at the campground, but the power had gone out,” Pat said. “We got everyone together and we had some flashlights, but it was still very dark.”

The group, which had about 10 members, decided to get to higher ground and hurried towards a paved path that went up a small incline near a mountain. As they raced up the path, Pat said he could hear trees cracking around him and saw RVs and vehicles floating down the river.

“We regrouped and said a brief prayer as the downpour continued and the water was still rising,” Pat said. “We knew that we had to get everyone up the mountain in case the water rose to the paved path. The mountain had a lot of loose rocks and sticker bushes, but we were able to get everyone up to a roadway above us.”

Once there, the group waited out the night.

“There was a lot of confusion, but we were able to make sure everyone was OK and we just waited until daybreak,” Pat said.

When the sun finally rose, the group descended down the mountain and back to their campsite. Pat said that the water had receded some, but that the river was still high and roaring.

“When we got back down there wasn’t a single camper left,” he said. “We found my truck and camper a quarter of a mile away, but we were never able to find my wife’s car.”

Though Pat and his wife are happy to be alive, they are grieving the death of the Roeders, with whom they shared many fond camping memories. It was Kay Roeder who introduced Tainia to camping in the first place.

Kay had made yearly trips to the Albert Pike campground for more than 60 years. On one of those trips, she brought a 12-year-old Tainia with her. From that point on, Tainia was hooked.

“We’ve been married for almost 25 years and Tainia and I have gone every year,” Pat said. “The reason we went was because of Kay.”

Pat said that the trips are so popular, that he actually had to limit how many friends his two children could bring with them when they would venture to Arkansas. Kay also brought many to the campsite over the years.

“She was not only the matriarch of her family, but she was the matriarch of our camping family,” Pat said. “She was a mother to many of her children’s friends.

“Miss Kay, Bruce and Debbie will be greatly missed. They were good, smart, hardworking people.”

 

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