Flash f lood in Ari­zona for­est leaves 9 dead

A flash flood at a pop­u­lar swim­ming hole leaves nine mem­bers of a fam­ily dead and one miss­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Paloma Esquivel and Emily Alpert Reyes

Six chil­dren are among the vic­tims at a swim­ming hole where their fam­ily was cel­e­brat­ing a birth­day.

Nine peo­ple were dead, in­clud­ing six chil­dren, and one man was miss­ing af­ter a flash flood roared through a pop­u­lar Ari­zona swim­ming hole over the week­end.

The deadly in­ci­dent at the Cold Springs swim­ming hole in the Tonto Na­tional For­est fol­lowed heavy rains that had spurred thun­der­storm and flash-flood warn­ings from the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice in ar­eas scarred by a re­cent wild­fire.

Of­fi­cials sus­pended their search Sunday even­ing but were ex­pected to re­sume on Mon­day.

The Gila County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice first re­ceived a 911 call about a search-and-res­cue op­er­a­tion at the swim­ming hole about 3:20 p.m. Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment’s web­site.

Sher­iff ’s Sgt. David Hor­nung said Sunday that the dead were mem­bers of a fam­ily that had gath­ered to­gether for the day.

“From what I un­der­stand, they were broth­ers and sis­ters and neph­ews and cousins. It was a big group of peo­ple out there en­joy­ing swim­ming in the river and play­ing in the wa­ter,” he said.

The chil­dren who died ranged in age from 2 to 17 and the adults from 24 to 60, Hor­nung said.

The vic­tims, he said, were prob­a­bly caught with­out warn­ing by the flood.

“It wasn’t even rain­ing where these peo­ple were at,” he said. “The flash flood came from above them.”

Rel­a­tives told the Ari­zona Repub­lic news­pa­per that the vic­tims were mem­bers of a Phoenix fam­ily that had gone to the swim­ming hole to cel­e­brate a birth­day. The news­pa­per said the dead in­cluded two mothers and their chil­dren, a grand­mother and two teenage boys. The hus­band of one of the women who died was still miss­ing, the paper re­ported.

The weather ser­vice is­sued a flash-flood warn­ing Satur­day af­ter­noon, but the area is fairly re­mote, Hor­nung said.

“The peo­ple who were down there prob­a­bly didn’t have cell­phone ser­vice. There was no real way to warn them about the pos­si­bil­ity of a flash flood,” he said.

A to­tal of 14 peo­ple were ini­tially re­ported miss­ing, but four of them were res­cued within about an hour of the in­ci­dent, Hor­nung said.

The res­cue was helped by the fact that a search-an­dres­cue team had been de­ployed nearby to help a hiker who had suf­fered an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion.

“When they were fin­ish­ing that up, they heard peo­ple yelling for help, and they went down to the river and found them,” Hor­nung said. “Had they not been there, it prob­a­bly would have been an hour be­fore any searc­hand-res­cue got there.”

The swim­ming hole is pop­u­lar with tourists and lo­cals, a place where fam­i­lies of­ten gather to es­cape the heat, said Chris Fabri of Phoenix, who main­tains a web­site about Ari­zona’s swim­ming holes and has been vis­it­ing Cold Springs for more than two decades. The swim­ming hole is north of Payson, Ariz.

A video shot by a wit­ness, Disa Alexan­der, shortly af­ter the flood and posted by var­i­ous news out­lets showed a man in a tree hold­ing a baby as wa­ter rushed around him.

Lo­cal news site Payson Roundup said res­cue work­ers had saved a fa­ther clutch­ing a child on Satur­day.

LisaMarie Zamora of Payson was hik­ing with her hus­band in the na­tional for­est late Satur­day af­ter­noon when the cou­ple no­ticed wa­ter com­ing down the road.

“We saw de­bris in the wa­ter and then all of a sud­den it was like some­one re­leased a dam,” she told the Los Angeles Times by phone. “It just en­gulfed the whole road we were on.… There were san­dals, bot­tles, food, all of it go­ing down­river.”

Zamora said that although Cold Springs is pop­u­lar with fam­i­lies, it is sur­rounded by slick rock and has al­ways seemed some­what treach­er­ous to her.

“Even with­out the flood­ing, it’s kind of dan­ger­ous. With the flood­ing, you can’t stop the wa­ter from pulling you down or down­river,” she said.

Fabri said the swim­ming hole has long been a trea­sured place to get away.

“The wa­ter is so cold that when its 100-some­thing de­grees out in Phoenix, and you drive out there for a day trip … it’s just re­fresh­ing,” he said. “It’s nice to get up there. You’re in a very prim­i­tive, pre­his­toric look­ing area with all the gran­ite. It’s just gor­geous.”

Fabri said he vis­ited the area with his young daugh­ter.

“I’m sure I’ve been up there dur­ing monsoon sea­son,” he said. “You just don’t think about that. That’s the un­for­tu­nate thing. Peo­ple need to think about it.”

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice on Satur­day is­sued a flash-flood warn­ing for Gila County at 2:12 p.m.

That report noted that rain was con­tin­u­ing to fall over an area near the canyon, which had been scarred in the High­line fire that burned about 7,000 acres in June.

The report said flash flood­ing was likely “within creeks and washes drain­ing from the High­line scar.”

At 3:09 p.m., about 10 min­utes be­fore au­thor­i­ties were called about the flood­ing, the weather ser­vice is­sued a se­vere thun­der­storm warn­ing for Gila and Yava­pai coun­ties.

Ari­zona Gov. Doug Ducey of­fered his con­do­lences on Twit­ter on Sunday to the rel­a­tives of those killed.

“Deep­est prayers for those lost in the Gila County tragedy, for their fam­i­lies and the en­tire com­mu­nity,” he wrote.

Jack Lloyd

A FLASH FLOOD in Ari­zona’s Tonto Na­tional For­est near where nine peo­ple were killed Satur­day. The vic­tims were from a fam­ily that had gath­ered at a wa­ter­ing hole for a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion, rel­a­tives said.

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