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Arkansas woman drowns after calling 911 during flash flooding

Her vehicle was swept away due to flash flooding and it took first responders over an hour to reach her.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — GRAPHIC WARNING: The contents of this article may be disturbing for some viewers. We have chosen not to share the last five minutes of the 911 call due to its graphic content.

The Fort Smith Police Department has released 911 audio and body cam footage from the night a woman called asking for help after being trapped in her car during a flash flooding event on Saturday, August 24.

According to police, 47-year-old Debra Stevens of Fort Smith, called around 4:38 a.m. She told the 911 operator that she was delivering newspapers for the Southwest Times Record when waters due to flash flooding swept her SUV off the roadway. Her vehicle was stopped by a row of trees.

Police say Stevens first called a family members, but as the waters continued to rise, she called 911.

"Also exacerbating response and rescue efforts were the facts that Mrs. Stevens was having trouble describing her exact location and flooding limited the ability of first responders to reach her," the Fort Smith Police Department said in a press release.

When first responders arrived to Stevens' location, the rising waters reportedly made "immediate response impossible." The first responders were able to find her vehicle just off Kinkead Avenue.

RELATED: 1 dead after flash flooding in Northwest Arkansas

A police officer on scene tried to enter the water with a life vest and rope, but police say the "speed and volume of water made this attempt futile."

In the 911 call, you can hear first responders attempting different routes to rescue her from the flood waters.

When first responders finally made it to her vehicle over an hour later from when the 911 call was placed, she was pronounced dead due to drowning. 

"I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra's family and friends," said Fort Smith Chief of Police Danny Baker. "All of our first responders who attempted to save Mrs. Stevens are distraught over the outcome."

During the 911 call, the operator told Stevens that "this will teach you next time don't drive in the water" and "how you didn't see it, you had to go river over it."

According to CBS-affiliate KFSM, Baker addressed the actions of the 911 operator, saying "the manner that she spoke during this conversation would have probably been addressed, but it would have been more a rudeness quality type service complaint." 

The operator recently put in a two weeks notice and the Stevens call came on her final shift.

"We can't investigate someone who no longer works here," Baker said. "However, an investigation into our policies, our responses, our dispatch center, I've talked to the fire chief, we are looking at what we can do to increase training for our dispatchers, swift water rescues and other things."

Below you can find a timeline of events released by the Fort Smith Police Department:

East Side Baptist Church has set up a memorial fund fort Debra Stevens. You can donate by clicking here.