The Book of Common Prayer reminds us that in the midst of life we are in death. The last few weeks have shown us that starting in Moore, Okla., on May 20 and continuing through last weekend.
Although they may have heard that observation and may even have lived by its truth, we suspect that Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter and wildlife officer Joel Campora were not thinking of death when they set out to rescue those stranded by rapidly rising floodwaters in the early hours Friday — at least not their own deaths. They were thinking about the lives that would be in danger if they did not act, we imagine.
That’s the way those two men thought, according to people who knew them.
Sheriff Carpenter and Mr. Campora responded to a 911 call near Y City where the rapidly rising Fourche LaFave River threatened and eventually engulfed a home.
Sheriff Carpenter, 41, lived his whole life in the Waldron community he protected. He’d worked for the Sheriff’s Office since 1996 and was serving his fifth term as sheriff.
Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck described him as a good sheriff and an outstanding detective. Scott County Judge James Forbes described him simply as “the best sheriff I’ve ever seen.”
Law enforcement officers and rescue workers searched for three days for Mr. Campora, who was just 32. Members of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission found him Sunday morning.
“We were very grateful that we were the ones that were able to recover him and return him to his family,” said Jeff Crow, chief of law enforcement for the Game and Fish Commission.
That mattered to AGFC director Mike Knoedl also: “I’m saddened for their loss, but I made a promise to officer Campora’s family that I would bring him back home,” he said.
Searchers also found two women over the weekend, although authorities have not confirmed they were the two women mentioned in the original 911 call. Another woman died around the time Sheriff Carpenter was in Y City, when she exited her vehicle on U.S. 71 and floodwaters swept her under her car.
We know a little bit about what to do in tornadoes: Get as low as you can, and put as many walls between you and the storm as possible, and never try to outrun a tornado. And we know that even when the worst happens and a tornado touches down, the actual swath of destruction will be just a small part of the warned area.
Flooding, especially flash flooding, is a completely different animal. Where “locally heavy downpours” will occur is impossible to predict, and the behavior of floodwater may differ from event to event because of things like new building projects, which can change the runoff patterns, and even terrain changes caused by previous floods. And the amount of land laid waste by a flood can be much greater than the area ruined by a tornado.
Even harder to predict are those sudden historic rainfalls, the 100- 200- or 500-year floods. It was just three years ago, June 11, 2010, that 16 campers at the Albert Pike Campground near Caddo Gap were killed by floodwaters that rose an imagination-defying 8 feet an hour, tumbling RVs like bathtub toys and peeling asphalt off the road.
Of course, every year we are reminded that things don’t have to get anywhere near that bad to be lethal. In Scott County, the force of flash-flood water swept cars away and collapsed buildings with dire consequences.
Although tornadoes are known as capricious and unpredictable forces, if you are in a populated area or have access to weather warnings, you may have 13 minutes advance knowledge to seek shelter. With flash floods, the warning time may be reduced to seconds, according to the National Weather Service.
The Louisville, Ky., NWS office offers these flash-flood safety rules.
When a warning is issued or when you realize a flood is imminent, act quickly.
Get out of areas subject to flooding, including dips, low spots, canyons, washes, bottoms and designated flood plains.
Avoid already flooded areas, especially those where water is flowing rapidly. Don’t try to cross a flowing stream if the water is above your knees.
Know the depth of water in a dip before trying to drive across it. Recognize that the roadbed under the water may not be intact and you may not be able to see the edge of the road. Be especially cautious at night.
Do not park or camp near streams and washes during threatening conditions.
Remain alert to weather warnings.
Most deaths related to flash flooding occur when vehicles attempt to cross flooded areas, according to usscouts.com. One foot of water can move a car; water two feet deep can sweep a vehicle away. If your vehicle stalls in floodwater, abandon it and seek higher ground.
In extreme weather events, even the best rules of safety may be useless, and sadly, that is what we saw last week.
We mourn with the families of Sheriff Carpenter and Mr. Campora and with their colleagues in law enforcement and wildlife management. We hope their selfless sacrifice and the courage it demonstrates will someday be a comfort to their loved ones, although we don’t imagine there is much comfort to be had right now.
We extend our sympathies as well to the loved ones of the three women who died in Friday’s flood.
Spring storms were a long time coming this year, but when they came, they came with a vengeance. We hope that we have seen the last deadly outbreak, but we urge caution to all in the event we have not.
The year has been sad enough already.
— Southwest Times Record