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FLOOD SWEEPS 17 CAMPERS TO THEIR DEATHS; Rescuers fear toll will soar.

Byline: Nick Dorman

SEVENTEEN people were confirmed dead last night and dozens are still missing after a massive flood swept away a holiday campsite as families slept. And rescuers fear the toll could rise dramatically as the grim search for survivors continues.

At least two children are among the victims - and there are fears there could be more among the 24 holidaymakers who have yet to be found.

Tragedy struck in the early hours at the remote site in Arizona's Ouachita National Forest after two rivers burst their banks in a torrential downpour.

Shattered survivors told how a tsunami-like wall of water hit tents, camper-vans and cabins being used by about 300 trippers.

Many of those who drowned were trapped in vehicles washed away by the flood. Some managed to escape by climbing trees - and eight terrified Scouts were able to scramble to safety up steep slopes surrounding the site.

Angela Chriss, who was camping there with nine relatives, wept as she said: "The water rose 8ft in minutes. It was in front and behind and we were in the centre of the flow.

"We climbed almost to the top of a tree and the water was just below us.

"You could hear the limbs snapping.

"My 16-year-old son was camping 100 yards from us and he came floating down the river.

"He said 'Mama, Daddy, save me - I'm drowning'."

Her four-year old grandson was swept away with his mum. Angela told a TV crew: "She said 'Son, look at Mummy, look at Mummy' and they started singing Jesus Loves Me."

Incredibly, all of them were later found alive.

But Angela said: "Several good friends didn't make it."

Crystel Hofer, who was asleep in her cabin, said: "About 2am we started hearing children and women screaming and crying, so we opened the door and saw them trying to climb a hill to escape the water.

"If they didn't get out of their camper within five, ten minutes, they weren't getting out."

And Chad waits for news Banks - who was camping with four friends - told how their tent was engulfed.

He said: "We got into the truck but in minutes the water started carrying us downstream.

"We abandoned the truck and tied ourselves to trees and waited for the water to go down.

"It was still waist deep in daylight and we could at least see to find our way out. But we barely made it."

Wreckage from the flood was found miles from the site.

The surge was so strong it crushed huge camper-vans and an 18-wheel juggernaut.

President Barack Obama last night offered his condolences to victims' families and survivors as rescuers continued searching.

nick.dorman@people.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

PAIN: Mum waits for news DELUGE: Car floats in river, top, a crushed camper van, left, and devastation at the campsite, right
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 13, 2010
Words:474
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