Jimmie Davis State Park closed after direct hit from tornado

One of the campers that got crushed by the falling trees on Caney Lake. (Photo courtesy of Chantay Ramsey)
One of the campers that got crushed by the falling trees on Caney Lake. (Photo courtesy of Chantay Ramsey)

Mother Nature continues to play havoc this spring on the north Louisiana outdoors.

Wednesday evening around 6 p.m., tornadoes and torrential rainfall swept through the area, causing considerable damage resulting in the closure of Jimmie Davis State Park on Caney Lake near Chatham. Rising waters also caused flooding on nearby Lake Claiborne at Homer, leading to the issuance of a “no wake” advisory for boaters.

At Jimmie Davis, fortunately there were less than 50 people at the state park midweek when the EF1 tornado and 110 mile per hour winds made a direct hit on the park. At peak weekend times in the spring, there can be up to 4,000 people in the park. Miraculously, even though trees caused structural damage to 12 of the 17 cabins and eight RV’s were totally destroyed, no one suffered serious injuries.

Dozens of trees are down around on on this cabin at Jimmie Davis State Park at Caney Lake. It is one of 12 cabins that suffered structural damage.
Dozens of trees are down around on on this cabin at Jimmie Davis State Park at Caney Lake. It is one of 12 cabins that suffered structural damage.

“Local first responders were tracking the storm and arrived at the park within five minutes after it hit. They did a remarkable job,” said Brandon Burris, Interim Assistant Secretary of Louisiana State Parks. “Emergency personnel had to extricate one family from a cabin and other individuals from an RV, but they were not injured.”

Burris, who spent the day helping with recovery at the park, estimated 500 or more trees are down on the 300 acre park site. The park is totally closed at this time and will be until further notice.

Burris said people with upcoming reservations have been notified and either given the option of refunds or to rebook. Cleanup crews worked through the night Thursday to clear trees off buildings so the roofs can be tarped before further rainfall and damage if possible. Insurance adjusters will be on site Monday to do an official estimate of damages and a gameplay for moving forward will be developed midweek, Burris said. There is hope that some of the park can be reopened as soon as it is considered safe even though many of the repairs will take weeks if not months.

Rest Room facilities and the parking lot at the main boat ramp on Lake Claiborne were underwater in this Wednesday photo.
Rest Room facilities and the parking lot at the main boat ramp on Lake Claiborne were underwater in this Wednesday photo.

At Lake Claiborne, rising waters closed some low-lying roads and went into facilities at the lake’s main boat ramp. As of Friday morning, the lake was not closed, but boaters are being warned not to run a motor and create a wake that will further damage seawalls and boathouses. Boating is also dangerous because of numerous logs and floating debris in the lake.

Downstream from Claiborne, Lake D’Arbonne at Farmerville has been flooded twice this spring and was closed for five days in April when the water went almost five feet above pool stage. Currently the lake is okay, but D’Arbonne is also downstream of Lake Claiborne. Previously this spring, there was considerable damage to lakeside and other Union Parish property on April 25 from the same tornado that caused millions of damage and the loss of two lives as it hit Ruston.

A kayaker makes his way down the flooded Deep Well Road through Ouachita River floodwaters at Rocky Branch.
A kayaker makes his way down the flooded Deep Well Road through Ouachita River floodwaters at Rocky Branch.

D’Arbonne isn’t the only other worry in the area. It drains into Bayou D’Arbonne and then the Ouachita River. Major flood stage on the Ouachita is 45.0 feet and the river is currently at 46 feet. Several boat ramps on the river are underwater and closed while thousands of acres along the river are flooded.

Kinny Haddox
About Kinny Haddox 253 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 40 years. He also publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com. He and his wife, DiAnne, live on Lake D’Arbonne in Farmerville.