Ari­zona flash flood kills large fam­ily

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Nation - By Anita Snow and Alina Hartounian

TONTO NA­TIONAL FOR­EST, Ariz. — The flash flood that killed nine peo­ple in an Ari­zona river canyon be­gan its deadly de­scent as an im­pres­sive but avoid­able surge of churn­ing wa­ter, black with cin­ders from a re­cent wild­fire and choked with tum­bling tree trunks and limbs.

By the time it reached a rocky swim­ming hole sev­eral miles down­stream, it was a roar­ing tor­rent 6 feet high, and an ex­tended fam­ily cel­e­brat­ing a birth­day while seek­ing refuge from the sum­mer heat had no warn­ing — and no chance to es­cape.

The bod­ies were found up to 2 miles away. Five other peo­ple were res­cued, some of them cling­ing des­per­ately to trees, and were treated for hy­pother­mia and re­leased.

As res­cuers searched Mon­day for a 27-year-old man still miss­ing about 100 miles north­east of Phoenix, au­thor­i­ties iden­ti­fied the vic­tims, who ranged in age from 2 to 60.

Among them were three gen­er­a­tions of a fam­ily. Five of the dead were chil­dren.

The vic­tims had been loung­ing Satur­day in the swim­ming hole, where rocks cre­ate pools and a se­ries of small water­falls. There the river nar­rows, squeez­ing the flow of wa­ter and in­creas­ing its deadly force.

The river roared to life af­ter a thun­der­storm had dumped up to 1.5 inches of rain in an hour, prompt­ing a flash flood warn­ing from the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice.

Though the ser­vice sent out a flash flood warn­ing over cell­phone net­works, ser­vice in the re­mote area is patchy at best. Un­less they had a weather ra­dio, the swim­mers would have been un­aware.

“They had no warn­ing. They heard a roar, and it was on top of them,” said Fire Chief Ron Sat­tel­maier of the Wa­ter Wheel Fire and Med­i­cal District.

Car­rie Tem­plin, a spokesman for the Tonto Na­tional For­est, said peo­ple headed to the for­est should check weather alerts ahead of time to de­ter­mine whether it’s safe. It is hard to pre­dict where rain will fall in the desert South­west, and peo­ple should know that heavy down­pours can cause flash flood­ing, Tem­plin said.

One hiker who was stranded by the flood said she can’t get the sound of the rush­ing wa­ter out of her head.

Nancy Coto, 17, said she was stuck for four hours on a slab of rock with her boyfriend and his fam­ily.

“We’re all just say­ing that we got blessed, but I don’t like to use that word be­cause other fam­i­lies weren’t blessed,” Coto said. “Chil­dren died.”

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