Three Texas residents whose children were injured when floodwaters swept 20 people to their deaths at an Arkansas campground have a filed a federal tort claim against the U.S. Forest Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The claim, filed Dec. 23 by Smith County, Texas, residents Natisha Rachal and Benjamin and Judy Pate, seeks damages for personal injury and wrongful death in connection with a June 11, 2010, flash flood at the Albert Pike Recreation Area near Glenwood.
The federal agencies are accused of failing to “properly maintain the severe weather and flooding warning system” at the campground and not correcting “known communications problems that prevented campers from learning of the imminent danger of flooding.”
Seven children and 13 adults from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas died after heavy rains inundated the remote valley in the Ouachita Mountains and pushed the Little Missouri River out of its banks.
The plaintiffs’ sons were camping with nine others, including one of the boys’ fathers, Anthony Smith. He and five others died.
According to the tort claim, the campground has a documented history of flooding events dating back to 1940 and the Forest Service “negligently failed to post flood hazard warning signs and notices or to otherwise warn campers of the dangers of flooding in the area.”
Weather Service forecasters sent warnings four times in a single hour to advise people of the potential for flash flooding, but those warnings were issued in the middle of the night and never reached those at the campground. The camp had no ranger on-site, no cellphone service and no sirens, and deputies at the nearest sheriff’s departments were at least an hour’s drive away.
After the flood, workers installed a new transmitter so weather-alert radio signals could reach the campground.
The National Weather Service office in Washington didn’t immediately return a request Wednesday seeking comment.
Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers said the agency has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation and referred calls to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We would have no comment at this juncture because it’s too early,” Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said.
A call to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Roy Payne, wasn’t immediately returned.
A Louisiana family who lost three members in the flood filed a lawsuit last year.
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