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Teenage witness says deadly Arizona flash flood was heartbreaking to watch

This Saturday, July 15, 2017 image from video provided by Scott Muller shows the flash flood just upstream of a popular swimming hole where it swept several people to their deaths in the Tonto National Forest near Payson, Ariz. The flood was the result of a thunderstorm that dumped heavy rainfall just upstream, unleashing 6-foot-high floodwaters, dark with ash from a summer wildfire. (Scott Muller via AP)

LISTEN: Nancy Coto, Flash Flood Survivor

PHOENIX — A teenage girl who witnessed a flash flood that claimed the lives of at least nine people described the scene as “heartbreaking.”

Nancy Coto, 17, was visiting the Cold Springs water hole near Payson with the first time with her boyfriend and his family. She said they first spotted the fast-approaching flood from the trail.

“I just heard my boyfriend’s dad say, ‘Hey, look. Watch this. It’s crazy,'” she told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos on Monday. “And we go up there and water is just gushing down.”

Coto said the entrance to their trail was quickly covered. When the water started rising, fear set in.

“That’s when I started panicking and I said, ‘OK, guys, we need to go up,'” she said.

Coto said their lives were not in danger, but they spotted a woman who was trapped in a tree.

“All you see is this lady holding on to this tree just for her life.”

Then Coto saw a man holding a baby who was stuck in a different tree.

“It was down the creek a little bit,” she said. “We were close to him, but there was a gap (so) that we couldn’t get him.”

Coto was trapped for about four hours while the waters receded. She said her boyfriend was able to find a search-and-rescue team at one point.

All three people she spotted were rescued, but others were not so lucky. Coto saw at least one of the victims being carried out of the area.

“Once we were in front of everybody we just noticed there was people carrying a body bag,” she said. “We thought it was someone that was hurt. We didn’t think that someone died.”

At least nine people from the same family were killed. A 10th person was missing.

“I just can’t stop thinking about the families — the lives that were taken away – and how they’re doing,” Coto said.

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