A wall of water, triggered by heavy rains that swelled the Little Missouri River to 20 feet, caught victims asleep in their tents at the Albert Pike campground in the Ouachita Mountains west of Little Rock, authorities said.
The death toll was lowered to 16 from the 20 that was previously reported, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said.
She added that officials did not know how many people were missing “as we don’t know how many people were there.”
Television images showed cabins reduced to rubble and mobile homes and vehicles overturned by the waters.
“There was a significant amount of rainfall last night and water quickly rose along the campsites,” said Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler.
Chad Stover, spokesman for the State Emergency Operations Center, said search and rescue operations were ongoing. He could not confirm earlier reports that children were among the dead, saying the ages of the victims had not been released as of late on Friday.
“Water came all the way up to our bed,” said Joe Yoakum, who was staying with his family in cabins in the area. They were evacuated before the water could threaten them. Other witnesses said they saw dead cows floating in the water.
Crews worked to fix power lines in the area, famed for its scenic beauty and rugged countryside.