Car, picnic tables washed away in deluge at Yellow River State Forest

(Radio Iowa) – Damage assessment is underway at a state forest in far northeast Iowa where flash flooding forced dozens of campers to abandon their belongings and evacuate Saturday. Joe Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says the Yellow River State Forest in Allamakee County was inundated by 11 inches of rain over three days, pushing Little Paint Creek out of its banks and causing campers to flee.

“About 20 to 25 of them could drive out of one campground,” Wilkinson says. “The other 69 had to be taken out by volunteers on ATVs and then out to the trucks and the trucks took them to the camp headquarters and then they boarded a bus to head to basically an overnight base.”

The Harpers Ferry Community Center provided cots and sleeping quarters that night. No serious injuries were reported but Wilkinson says one camper was very fortunate to have escaped with her life.

“A woman decided she had to get out to work,” Wilkinson says. “She drove through standing water and it was deeper than she anticipated. The water just floated her over to a pedestrian bridge. She broke out the sunroof, climbed out onto the bridge where she was safe and then she could eventually walk back to the campground.”

When rescue crews returned to the car, the bridge had been knocked off its foundation and the car was nowhere to be found. It’s still missing. All of the wooden picnic tables in the campground are also missing — they floated off — Wilkinson says, and that’s not the least of the damage.

“Even the fire pits, which were encased in concrete, the floodwaters got in and ground around those and washed the dirt away to where the concrete and these heavy iron fire pits were exposed and then it just tumbled those 50 to 75 yards downstream, too,” Wilkinson says. “That’s how hard-hitting all the water was.”

Many of the campers who had to be evacuated on ATVs left all of their camping gear and their vehicles behind. One of the priorities is now getting those people returned to their vehicles and getting the vehicles safely over the waterway. The 85-hundred acre state forest is closed and Wilkinson couldn’t estimate when it will reopen.

There were some tense moments Saturday when one family’s whereabouts could not be verified. The family managed to leave before the flooding and camped out — in a motel.