Flash Flood Leads to Rescue of 200+ Campers at Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Vehicle caught by flood.

One of the vehicles caught in the flash flood. NPS photo.

The Alley Spring Campground at Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri became the scene of a mass rescue when a flash flood swamped the site, and over 200 campers suddenly found themselves in the water and in the dark at 4 a.m.

According to a report from the park,

The campers in Alley Spring campground were awakened at 4 a.m. on July 30th when their air mattresses began moving or objects started hitting the sides of their tents or trailers. Rain that had begun around 10 p.m. the previous evening had caused a flash flood that swamped the popular campground.

In less than three hours, the Jack’s Fork River rose from six to ten vertical feet, depending on the location along the river. The flash flood missed the gauges at the upper part of the Jacks Fork and struck lower sections of the river.

Park staff from all divisions, along with Missouri Water Patrol officers, evacuated the campers to higher ground. The campground had about 48 sites occupied by over 200 people. Many had to leave their tents, trailers, or vehicles in the water. In the haze of pre-dawn, officers used boats to rescue campers and ...bring them to safety.

After the campground was evacuated, the officers searched the entire Jacks Fork River for canoeists who might be camping on gravel bars. Many private and commercial canoes had floated away during the night with the rising river.

No lives were lost, but there was a large amount of property damage to the campsites and to park visitors’ property, including vehicles or campers that were totally destroyed.

Elsewhere in the park, a group on a cave tour later that same day had an unexpected boat trip added to their hike:

A group touring the Round Spring Cave emerged from the 2 p.m. tour to find the bridge crossing a small creek to be on one side of a torrential current. Park protection rangers boated to the site and evacuated the 15 visitors plus interpreter to the opposite shore. The group remained calm and in good spirits, with the three children on the tour calling it an “adventure” and the adults exchanging e-mails to share their photos.

Comments

Our group was finishing a 3 day trip down the Current on July 30th. Two adults and 3 young kids. Our take out point was Two Rivers which is just past the confluence of the Current and the Jacks Fork and on the far bank. We felt something was amiss around 10:30AM when we noticed our normally free flowing river had no moving water and appeared to be flooded for the last mile before the Jacks Fork. The high level of Jacks Fork was backing up the Current. The water was still clear but gravel bars and trees on the banks were underwater.

When we neared the confluence, about 150m from the Jacks Fork, another multiday canoe party of 4 canoes and 8 adults stopped us. The NPS did not want anyone to pass that point and was shuttling everyone across the Jacks Fork. The water was about about 10' above normal at that point. A crossing in a canoe would have been deadly as the water was tearing through the confluence at high speed and carrying with it much debris including entire trees. The NPS had both our groups across to Two Rivers in less than an hour. Canoes, gear, and people. They were very efficient and profesional. The boat they used handled the raging river without any issues.

Steven -

Thanks for the report. Glad to know your trip ended safely!

Steven Neu (not verified),
Wow, exciting. An adventure of the finest kind!
Thanks, interesting how the water in the Current slowed down, still clear etc.

"...adventure without regard to prudence, profit, self-improvement,
learning or any other serious thing" -Aldo Leopold-

While we where waiting for our ride to what was left of Two Rivers the small sand bank that was there holding our canoes in place disapeared. Also before we left Two Rivers it started raining again.

That is my son's truck and my trailer shown in the picture. We were camped in the 100 loop of the Alley Springs Campground. We were awakened at 3:00 with water above our ankles (not 4:00 like the report above shows). We immediately began to pack our belongings into the van, truck and trailer. My husband drove the van out to the left of the bathroom (thru the grass) onto the day float lot while my son attempted to drive to the right of the bathroom. Unfortunately, that side was lower and the force of the water floated the trailer and pulled his truck into deeper water. A group of 4 young men camped across from us drove into Eminence to get cell phone service and found a ranger at one of the resturaunts having breakfast. He was unaware of the problems until the young men told him about the river rising. At about the same time, my son called 911 on the pay phone at the ranger's station in the campground. It was a good 45 minutes from that time that the first ranger showed up. he was followed by an ambulance and a sheriff's car. When we left the campground about 6:40 there was only 5 or 6 people there to help the campers. When we returned about an hour later there was a large number of rangers and other individuals to assist. Our question is "Why was no one monitoring the level of the river after the amount of rain that had fallen in the past several days; and why did it take so long for help to arrive after the flood was reported.

Why did your son not contact any of the rangers or emergency services from the pay phone that was about 50 feet away from his truck the minute he realized what was going on? I was there I saw your sons truck. At that pay phone were phone numbers posted to contact the rangers and different emergency services. My family talked to people who were actually camped by you and said that they heard you leaving and did not contact anyone and let any other campers know of the flood. Your first priority should not have been for your belongings, it should have been to alert the campers and call the rangers. There were people in our loop that drove around laying on their car horns, yelling for people to get up. When my family was awakened and realized what was going on, there were a lot of rangers in the campground, definitely more than 5 or 6. They were going around with their sirens on yelling for everyone to get it out immediately. And after they got everyone out that they could, they had 8 or 9 motor boats in the campground and on the river looking for people and helping them out of there. And for your question as to why no one was monitoring the water levels, the water levels are always monitored, there are sensors on the the bridges. This was not the rangers faults for not knowing about the flood right away. The first sensor is at the upper Jack's Fork, but there was no rain there, the rain was only in the middle Jack's Forks and the lower part. And there was only about an inch of rain in Emminence. All of the rain was isolated aroun the Alley Springs area and happened so fast that no one really knew what was happening. Usually they are contacted by the National Weather Service, but the rangers got absolutely no warning from them at all.

Hi. I was there and from what I seen is that it was every man for him self,but there where a few thats was helping each other. As for as the Rangers they showed up to late and when they did show up it was to late for the people in the 100's campsite,they where the last to get out and had to be boated out.On that note, they (Rangers) need to think about getting some kind of air boats just because the prop driven boats are not good when props get damage and it puts people in risk of drowning. The first boat in had that same problem and had 3 young lady's in the boat and the boat died and they where pushed againest a tree and brush, we thought that they where going to be washed down river. Now for the Rangers that showed up they mainly was trying to get the people out of the upper level out first', as for the Ranger that was suppose to be in the campground was not there and there should be someone there at all times just for this raeson. I had one of the Rangers tell me to go on and do what we had to do and come back in 2 hrs, what was there to do when are car was still in the campground you could not go no where except walk up to the general store and the reason why we could not enter to get are cars so others would not steel others camping stuff,come on there was not anything there anybody wanted and most of the stuff has had already been washed down river. As for the warning system, a joke. If that storm was any closer it could had been worse and lives could have been lost. I've been going there since the 60's and this is the first for me. My suggestin is that if it rains,someone should stay awake and do not camp in lower end of campgrounds. Now that has been said could I get some pic's of that night from some of you that was there if you have them. Thanks and have a safe trip.

I do not know how that person knows for certain that the truck pictured(a relative's truck and trailer) was the one they saw. And to then go on to criticize is just rediculous, when you are put into the situation of what this family went into you automatically try to save some of your thousands of dollars of equiptment and your belongings. Knowing the upstanding people that family is if they could have saved someone they would have! And if the water was that high right there, there was probably standing water by the phone and/or the phone line was down. Instead of logging on to bicker and criticize a family that lost so much, log on to share how lucky everyone was to get out or if you have your negative thoughts keep them to yourself. You can't imagine what all was lost, because you are too busy giving people flack. Be thankful, share experiences, try to help this not to happen with such force to future campers-but please don't pick at people you don't know who went through this all too!

Ok this is the first time I have seen these comments. We are the owners of the truck and trailer in the picture above. My reply is the person who commented did not know what they were talking about. When we realized the problem everyone in the 100 loop was awake and trying to pack their belongings. After we got one vehicle out and the other one stuck my son used the pay phone and called the sheriff, the rangers and the state police and was informed help would be on the way. My husband and son took canoes that were by the campground hostess trailer (who by the way was not on site either) and went into the flooded campground to try to convince people to get in the canoes and leave. Most would not leave their stuff. We did ferry a family group that had hicked into the campground from a rock bar campsite (who lost all their stuff) up to the shelter by the mill. I don't think there was anything else we could have done to get emergerncy help sooner or people out.

We have camped at Alley Springs for 36 years and will continue to camp there. We have been back 3 times since the flood but have taken precautions to keep track of the river levels on our own. I still say the Ranger and other officials were negligent and with the increased number of rangers we saw on site this summer/fall I believe they also agreed.

In response to Anonymos' 8/9/09 comment:

Yes, when we realized the campground was flooding my son went to the pay phone and called the sheriff, rangers and state police to report the problem. The response was "ok, we will send help just hang tight". After we lost his truck and our trailer my husband and son took the canoes from the campground hostess site (by they way they were not there either) and rowed into the campsites to try to convince people to get in the canoes and leave or at least send their kids out. Most would not do so - they wanted to wait for the rangers to come. We ferried several families that had hiked back to the campsite from camping on gravel bars and had only the clothes they were wearing (6 little kids with them) up to the shelter by the mill. Don't make stupid assumptions and comments when you don't know what you are talking about.