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.
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.
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.