Because of high water and heavy rains, a search for an unidentified person and a vehicle that went missing in Jackson County, Alabama, Feb. 5 after being swept away by high waters on a creek in Buck's Pocket State Park might not resume for days or longer, authorities said Wednesday.
"The search has been suspended indefinitely due to weather that is incoming to the area," Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Senior Trooper Chuck Daniel said of search efforts on South Sauty Creek. Those efforts have been continually hampered by heavy rain and have not resumed since the weekend.
"I think they got more rain than they did the previous week when the incident happened," Daniel said Wednesday. "I can imagine Buck's Pocket right now is as bad or worse than last week."
When the rain let up enough, search teams have been able to look along the creek and use some equipment to look for the vehicle, Daniel said.
"They were able to do some probing with a large track hoe and a magnet in the water," he said. "They thought they had found something magnetic but it turned out not to be a car.
"That's the problem, wherever the vehicle came to rest last week, it could have moved again with all this water," the trooper said of the frustrating weather.
"We're still kind of where we left off."
Heavy rain forecast for Wednesday night was expected to push water levels higher on South Sauty Creek, Daniel noted, while the National Weather Service in Huntsville, Alabama, forecasts drier conditions for the Guntersville region starting Thursday night and continuing into the weekend. Friday and Saturday are expected to be sunny with a high of 55 on Thursday and a bit cooler on Friday with a high near 45, forecasters said.
More rain is predicted for Sunday night with precipitation chances increasing into next week.
Mike Jeffreys — the district superintendent of Northeast Alabama state parks, including Buck's Pocket — said that probably won't be enough of a dry stretch for search operations to safely resume.
Jeffreys said it typically takes three days or more for flooded South Sauty Creek to recede, and then the shaded creek gorge gets so little sunlight it takes even longer for the ground along the creek to dry out enough for searchers to safely walk without slipping.
Because of incoming rain and forecasts for more rain next week, officials decided to temporarily delay search efforts, he said.
"I know it's hard for family and the public sometimes to understand but anyone that has been down along Sauty Creek when the water is up understands completely what I mean. It's dangerous," Jeffreys said.
"Right now the search is postponed indefinitely until the weather pattern changes so we can resume safe operations," he said. "We've got to have four or five days of dry weather.
"This could be a long-term search effort," he said.
On the day of the incident, a witness told Huntsville's WHNT 19 News of the frightful moment he saw the vehicle go under water.
"As we were turning around I could see what appeared to be a vehicle. Then as the car started shifting because of the water, we noticed what appeared to be an arm reaching out [b]racing either the dash or the steering wheel, and that is when we knew we had to get back up to the top of the hill and call 911," Kirkland Follis told the news station.
The Feb. 5 incident marks the second time in less than a year an occupied vehicle has been swept off the same South Sauty Creek crossing. On Feb. 22, 2019, 18-year-old Geraldine, Alabama, resident Koy Spears went missing when the Jeep Cherokee he was riding in with two other people was washed off the crossing by flood waters.
The other two people, identified last year as 22-year-old Crossville, Alabama, resident Sara Lucille Mooneyham and 21-year-old Jaxon Cole Jones, of Dawson, Alabama, were rescued an hour or so after the Jeep vanished, the Times Free Press reported last year.
Jeffreys said state parks officials are meeting Thursday with officials from DeKalb and Jackson counties about installing gates on Jackson County Road 456 on the north side of South Sauty Creek, and on DeKalb County Road 173 on the south side. He said details would be worked out soon.
Jeffreys also said there had been significant damage to the crossing itself from all the water rushing over it and through the tiles beneath it.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.
TURN AROUND, DON'T DROWN
The National Weather Service offers the following recommendations when flood waters rise:
- Monitor a NOAA Weather Radio or news source for weather information
- If flooding occurs, get to higher ground. Get out of areas subject to flooding, including dips, low spots, drainage ditches, canyons, washes etc.
- Avoid areas already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams.
- Road beds may be washed out under flood waters. Never drive through flooded roadways — you do not know the condition of the road under the water.
- Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly during threatening conditions. Move to higher ground if heavy rain or rising water occurs. Creeks and streams can rise very rapidly during heavy rainfall.
- Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.
- If you must evacuate your home, secure your home and if possible, turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
- Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving and use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
- Do not drive into flooded areas. If flood waters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away.
- Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and possible stalling.
- A foot of water will float many vehicles.
- Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
- Play it smart, play it safe. Whether driving or walking, any time you encounter a flooded road, “Turn Around, and Don’t Drown.”
Source: National Weather Service