Search­ing for flash-flood vic­tims

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ANITA SNOW AND ALINA HARTOUNIAN In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Justin Pritchard, Michael Bal­samo, Angie Wang and Jac­ques Bil­leaud of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

A Navajo County, Ariz., res­cuer searches a river­bank where a body was found Mon­day in Tonto Na­tional For­est. Res­cuers con­tin­ued to search for a 27-year-old man who was among more than a dozen peo­ple swept away as flash flood­ing in­un­dated an area swim­ming hole Satur­day.

TONTO NA­TIONAL FOR­EST, Ariz. — The flash flood that killed nine peo­ple in an Ari­zona canyon be­gan its deadly de­scent as a 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 a fam­ily cel­e­brat­ing a birth­day 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.

De­tec­tive David Hor­nung of the Gila County sher­iff’s of­fice said Mon­day that the wife of the miss­ing man, Hec­tor Gar­nica, died in the flood­wa­ters.

Hor­nung con­firmed that Gar­nica’s chil­dren, 7-year-old Da­nial, 5-year-old Mia and 3-year-old Emily Gar­nica, also died in the flood.

Fam­ily and friends iden­ti­fied 26-year-old Maria Raya-Gar­cia, whose birth­day the group was cel­e­brat­ing, as Hec­tor Gar­nica’s wife.

In all, nine peo­ple who were part of Gar­nica’s ex­tended fam­ily died af­ter be­ing swept away. Five of the dead were chil­dren.

The other dead chil­dren were iden­ti­fied by au­thor­i­ties and fam­ily mem­bers as 2-year-old Erica Raya-Gar­cia and Jonathan Leon, 13. Also killed were Javier Raya-Gar­cia, 19; Celia Gar­cia Cas­taneda, 60; Mari­bel Raya-Gar­cia, 24.

The vic­tims had been loung­ing Satur­day in the Wa­ter Wheel swim­ming hole, where the river nar­rows and rocks cre­ate pools. The nar­row­ing of the canyon squeezed the flow of wa­ter and helped give it deadly force.

The river roared to life af­ter a thun­der­storm had dumped up to 1½ inches of rain in an hour, prompt­ing a flash flood warn­ing from the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice.

But there is lit­tle or no cell­phone ser­vice in the re­mote area, and without a weather ra­dio, the swim­mers would have been un­aware.

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 down­falls can cause flash flood­ing, Tem­plin said.

“How do you warn peo­ple about Mother Na­ture?” Tem­plin asked.

About 40 vol­un­teer work­ers and four search dogs looked for the miss­ing man.

About 5 miles up the moun­tain, where a June wild­fire scorched 11 square miles of the Tonto Na­tional For­est, Scott Muller first spot­ted the wa­ter rum­bling down the nearly dry East Verde River. He was spend­ing the day with a dozen other mem­bers of AZ Krawlers, a vol­un­teer group that was check­ing roads and trails for dan­ger­ous ero­sion and miss­ing signs.

“We had no idea how fast and big it was go­ing to be,” Muller said.

Muller and the oth­ers with him rushed to get an­other look. They drove up the moun­tain to a bridge that was be­low where the wa­ters would sweep through the swim­ming hole.

There, Muller said, they saw a cou­ple with two young chil­dren play­ing in the river and told them to get out.

Nei­ther Muller nor the group’s leader, Ken Maki, said they knew of the swim­ming hole about a mile up­river.

AP/ANGIE WANG

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