|Monday, Mar 24, 2008|
About a foot of rain fell on the region over a two-day period last week, raising almost all of the creeks and rivers within the park to record flood levels. At park headquarters in Van Buren, the Current River crested at 25.7 feet above normal; at the Akers ranger station, the river gauge only goes up to 18 feet and was seen two feet under the riverâs surface, setting a new record for that location. President Bush has declared 70 Missouri counties as disaster areas, including all the counties encompassing the 134-mile-long park. Rangers responded to four major river rescues on March 18th and saved over 15 visitors or locals from various flooded creeks or roads. One of these operations involved rescuing two local Missouri State Water Patrol officers after their rescue boat flipped over while trying to save some juveniles whoâd been caught in the flood. On this rescue, three separate jet boats had their motors clog up due to debris and flipped over in the trees and brush. The NPS was operating the only prop-equipped boat on the river and was being called by both the local county sheriffsâ departments and the state to assist them with rescues. Very fortunately, no one drowned in the park, although a number of drownings occurred elsewhere in the state. Due to high water levels, a number of park employees could not make it to work, some employees could not make it back home after work, and other employees had no electricity at their homes for several days. The entire park was without internet or phone service for all of March 19th, which was the day when staff were trying to locate and obtain emergency resources to assist in this incident. At the time of the report (Friday afternoon), the park was estimating that damage to roads, trails, buildings and other facilities would reach well over $1.5 million, but accurate figures will not be possible until waters recede. As the rivers go down, staff are noting that the park lost a large number of buildings, signs, picnic tables, fences, power transformers and items of playground equipment. Many other buildings had flood waters up to three feet deep inside them. Generally speaking, most of the parkâs campgrounds and the Jacks Fork and Current Rivers remain closed until the extent of the damage can be assessed and the river can be run and found to be safe from floating debris, root wads, and various obstacles like cars, propane tanks, and other items that were lost in this flood. Park clean-up continues and it will take months to get operations back to normal.