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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Storm claims two

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tornadoes, high winds, rain create havoc

MUDDY BANK: A large tree lies where it toppled along the banks of the Spring River in Hardy. Trees along the river were washed away as their roots could no longer support them in the flood-saturated ground. PHOTO/COX

Cadaver dogs from the Shelby County (Tenn.) Sheriff's Department were used to find the body of a Trumann man in the Spring River Sept. 25.

The body of Cecil B. "Jackie" Richardson was found 20 feet from the north bank, about 100 yards from where he was last seen alive clinging to tree branches in the rising flood waters of the Spring in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, according to Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver.

Family members had waited anxiously at a Hardy motel all weekend as more than 50 volunteers searched for Richardson's body.

Richardson, a former firefighter and police officer from Trumann, became the second confirmed fatality of the storm that hit the tri counties Friday night and Saturday, dumping more than 11 inches of rain in Sharp County Sept. 22 and 23.

The storm also spawned tornadoes that destroyed a church and as many as five homes south of Ash Flat and damaged dozens of other homes and structures throughout north Sharp County, according to Pete Reilly, emergency services coordinator for Sharp County.

Richardson was staying with his three nephews in a camper at River Bend campground when the flood hit. The four abandoned the camper and climbed trees to escape the rising waters, Reilly said.

"He told his nephews he was having chest pains and thought he was having a heart attack," Reilly said. "He said he couldn't hold on any longer. They looked back and he wasn't there; they saw some gurgling in the water."

The four had either ignored or not heard emergency officials who evacuated the campground in the middle of the night, according to officials.

Chris Allen Bodkins, a junior firefighter with the Williford Volunteer Fire Department, drowned in the flood waters of Martin Creek Sept. 23.

The 16-year-old was traveling with his stepfather, Bill Cossey, and volunteer Cliff King shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday to assist in the rescue of a family stranded at their cabin on Martin Creek when the Toyota Cossey was driving crested a hill and plunged into the waters of the creek, which had risen far above flood stage.

King exited the vehicle and it began to fill with water. The current swept it off the roadway. Cossey was able to escape through the window and called to Bodkins to do the same, said Sheriff Weaver. Cossey was carried downstream in the current until he was able to grab hold of tree branches. He was rescued from the tree two hours later.

According to a volunteer who helped in the search, the car was discovered at about 6 p.m., a few hundred yards from where it had washed off the road. Searchers saw what they thought was a bumper above the surface of the water; it turned out to be the roof of the car, the volunteer said.

After emergency workers searched in and around the car, Sheriff Weaver called off the search as darkness fell, saying it would resume in the morning.

Family and friends remained at the scene to continue the search; they found Bodkins' body five hours later about 30 feet from the car, according to the volunteer. He was pronounced dead by Coroner Randy McComas, who ruled the cause of death as drowning.

An F1 tornado struck five miles south of Ash Flat Friday night, according to Reilly.

"It started in the Dry Bone area, took out three homes, then went along (Good Earth) Pottery Road to Campground Road," Reilly said. "It totaled a church and damaged five more homes. One was destroyed."

Reilly said the storm eclipsed the storm of 1991, making it the worst since Dec. 2, 1982, when 13 inches of rain fell in a 12-hour period, accompanied by tornadoes. In that storm homes washed down the South Fork and Spring Rivers, and a tornado swept through Highland, destroying homes and businesses.

Most of the damage in this storm was confined to the north half of the county, Reilly said.

"Tornadoes appeared like popcorn all over, from Poughkeepsie to Cherokee Village," Reilly said.

Emergency workers from 36 agencies in three states and 18 Arkansas counties joined in the search and rescue efforts. More than 200 volunteers assisted, Reilly said.

Approximately 20 people were stranded in trees and had to be rescued by boat.

"These were very serious conditions," Reilly said. "We're fortunate that we didn't lose more lives than we did in the county."

Loberg Park, the Hardy Ballfield, the Hardy Campground and the Jackson Addition along the Spring River were all under water Saturday morning after the river rose more than 20 feet overnight. Picnic tables from the park were strewn for more than a mile down the river. Docks, canoes, rowboats, furniture and other debris were deposited in trees.

Sharp County Judge Joe Stidman declared an emergency in the county Saturday. Stidman said the storm caused considerable damage to roads in the northeast part of the county, especially Baker Cemetery Road.

Road Department workers were out all weekend, starting Friday night, to remove downed trees and repair washouts.

Anthony Coy, area manager of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, spent most of the day Saturday surveying damage in the county, the judge said.

Coy was expected to return Monday.

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