Relatives pray for 6 Scouts missing in Arkansas forest -

Relatives pray for 6 Scouts missing in Arkansas forest

LODI, Ark. (AP) -- Some prayed. Some slept. Some just stood around, forcing words from their lips.  

The scene inside the metal church in southwest Arkansas Monday night was eerily similar to one nearly a year before. Families, miles away from home, waited with pastor Graig Cowart for news on whether their loved ones had survived the rising waterways.  

Six Louisiana Boy Scouts and two of their adult leaders are believed to have been stranded by high waters in the same area where nearly a year ago flash floods killed 20 campers. This time, officials believe the Scouts likely stayed above the flood plain but were probably trapped by rising water -- the Little Missouri River's depth tripled over the weekend -- in a remote area with little cellphone coverage.  

"We hope it doesn't wind up like last year," Cowart said.  

No one has heard from the Scouts or their leaders from Troop 162 in Lafayette, La., since Thursday, when they arrived at Albert Pike Recreation Area in Arkansas' Ouachita Mountains. The search began Monday morning, after the group didn't show up back in Louisiana as expected.  

Authorities scaled back search efforts after nightfall Monday, with strong winds and low clouds forcing a helicopter to turn back before the boys could be found. Arkansas State Police and the National Guard each hoped to have a craft in the air early Tuesday morning, if weather permits.  

At the church, the boys' families -- some dressed in matching Lafayette Boy Scouts shirts -- had more reason to sustain hope than the relatives of the victims who gathered at Cowart's Pilgrim Rest Landmark Missionary Baptist Church last June.  

The Scouts were experienced backpackers for their age -- 14 on average -- and had previously camped in the recreation area. They knew that cellphone service there is shaky at best, so the group left behind detailed plans, said Art Hawkins, executive director of the Scouts' Evangeline Area Council in Lafayette. One concern was how much food the group might have left.  

"This is a group that is going to be able to fend and use the survival skills they learned through scouting," Hawkins said. "They're probably going to be hungry, but I'm sure they're going to be able to scrounge up enough food to be OK."  

The Scouts were supposed to leave the recreation area after breakfast Sunday and arrive in Louisiana that evening. When no one heard from them by late Sunday, Boy Scout officials contacted local authorities, Hawkins said.  

One park official spotted the group's vehicles outside the Winding Staircase entrance to the Eagle Rock trail late Sunday night, Hawkins said. It was already dark and pouring rain, so search teams waited to head toward the forest until after daybreak Monday.  

But even then, the weather hampered their efforts. Authorities had not located the boys by late Monday, and the only search effort going on overnight involved a few vehicles patrolling nearby roadways in the hope someone might come across the campers.  

The campers would have confronted a rapidly rising river. The Little Missouri was at 3 feet to 4 feet at the Albert Pike campground when the Scouts arrived, but had reached 8 feet by Sunday morning after more than 7.5 inches of rain fell. It topped out at 11 feet early Monday, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Geological Survey, before it began falling. The river was hovering around 6 feet by about midnight.  

More than a dozen of the boys' relatives drove from Louisiana to Arkansas to wait for the latest news. They were spending the night on cots at the church.  

Cowart, the church's pastor, said he made sure the boys' relatives had enough basics, including toiletries and water, to make it through the night.  

"These people are really hurting," he said. "They felt really alone and isolated."  

Cowart led the families in prayer, calling out the names of the stranded boys and asking for their safety. Relatives joined hands. Some cried. Some held each other. Cowart recited the last verse of the 27th Psalm, which says: "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." 

Associated Press writers Andrew DeMillo and Jeannie Nuss contributed from Little Rock.  

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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