LANGLEY , Ark. — Eighteen people have been confirmed killed in flash floods that swept through the popular Albert Pike Recreation Area before dawn on Friday.
Six of the dead were Texans, including two children from Texarkana, one child from DeKalb, and adults from Nash and New Boston.
Many of the survivors of the harrowing flash flood are also from Texas, including members of a Sachse family who are grateful to be alive.
Terry Whatley told News 8 that within minutes, the waters of the Little Missouri River overwhelmed him and his family. They barely escaped — while others in their camping group did not.
"I made it about 15 feet, and it was already up to my waist," said the high school coach.
Within minutes, the water surged from his ankle to his neck as he tried to get his mother to higher ground.
"I was trying to get my footing; the water was about neck deep; the current started carrying her underneath the car," he said. "I was thinking to myself, 'If she goes, I go,' because I wasn't going to let go of her."
The Whatley family all survived, but three of their close friends did not.
Rescue crews continued searching the river bank on Saturday for the nearly two dozen people still missing from the Albert Pike Recreation Center.
"We have searchers in there. We have kayaks and canoes going down the river. We have officers in there on foot, four-wheeler and horseback," said Capt. Mike Fletcher of the Arkansas State Police.
But searchers are losing hope of finding survivors. They discovered two more bodies on Saturday.
"You don't think the place you have camped all your life — friends you have made and have had all of your life — would be the final place to leave them," said Shannon Whatley. "We have been camping here all of our lives. Nothing like this has ever happened."
"It is heartbreaking to see what these families are going through," said Brigette Williams of the American Red Cross.
Officials are now re-thinking storm warning systems in federal parks. Within hours, the river swelled by 20 feet, giving sleeping vacationers like the Whatleys little time to escape.
"You've just got to have faith, man," Terry Whatley said, his voice cracking. "That's what gets you through times like this."
Search crews were called in around 8 p.m. Saturday but planned to resume their work around 6:30 a.m. Sunday, police said.
"I am so thankful my family made it," Terry Whatley said. "It was a trying time."
WFAA reporter Jonathan Betz in Dallas, The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.