The Caddo and Little Missouri rivers -- two normally gentle waterways -- rose by more than 20 feet overnight, engulfing the hikers and campers who were spending the night in tents along the rivers in the isolated Ouachita Mountains.
"Within 10 minutes, the water had rose and campers were floating down," Hofer told ABC News. "If they didn't get out of their camper within five, 10 minutes, they weren't getting out."
The 54-unit campground was quickly inundated with water. The water was so violent it overturned RVs and peeled asphalt off the roads.
"There was a lot of devastation in there, where it's coming along this river," said Capt. Mike Fletcher of the Arkansas State Police Department. "There's vehicles that's overturned, there's cabins washed off their foundations."
The area affected, the Albert Pike campground, is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and is about 75 miles west of Little Rock. It is a popular camping area, partly because of its secluded location. Officials say they expect more deaths but do not yet have a full count on the number of people at the site or missing.
"We don't know who was in there last night," State Police spokesman Bill Sadler told The Associated Press. "This is a very wide area."
Brigette Williams, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Little Rock, told The Associated Press that between 200 and 300 people were believed to be in the area at the time of the flooding. She did not know how many of those were campers and how many were local residents.
DeCample said people there would have had "very little warning or alerts" because the flooding occurred while most people were sleeping. And because the area is so remote and terrain so rugged, officials believe that campers would have had to hike downstream in the dark to escape the valley, making the chances of survival for some even slimmer.
The Little Missouri west of Caddo Gap stood at 3 feet Thursday, but after 7.6 inches of rain fell in the area overnight the level jumped to 23.5 feet by Friday morning. It later dropped to 11.5 feet.
Searchers were working along the Little Missouri River in Montgomery and Pike counties and the National Guard dispatched helicopters to help in the rescue.
"We're just in the process of right now, trying to see if we have anyone to be rescued along the river there, and uh, also in a recovery stage," said Capt. Fletcher.
Officials were also bringing in a refrigerated truck to serve as a temporary morgue and downstream Glenwood police and fire crews monitored river debris moving beneath a highway overpass.
Two Shreveport, La., families were at the Albert Pike campgrounds when the floods hit, a family friend told ABC affiliate KTBS.
A 5-year-old member of one family was swept away by flood waters, and the father and a 2-year-old child were missing, said Tonya Rabalais of Shreveport.
The father of the other family -- which consisted of a husband, wife and three children -- was missing, Rabalais said. The mother of the first family and four members of the second family survived.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.