Nine confirmed dead in northern Arizona flash flood
VIDEO: This video of a flash flood in the Water Wheel area outside of Payson was posted June 15 by YouTube user David Cole. pic.twitter.com/tWkcLPB6fl
— azcentral (@azcentral) July 16, 2017
Authorities say nine people from Cave Creek were found dead and at least one more is missing after flash flooding poured over a popular swimming area inside the Tonto National Forest near Payson in central Arizona.
Crews were to resume the search Monday for 27-year-old Hector Miguel Garnica who was swept away by the floodwaters.
Water Wheel Fire and Medical District Fire Chief Ron Sattelmaier said more than a hundred people were in the Cold Springs swimming hole Saturday afternoon when a severe thunderstorm pounded down on a nearby remote area that had been damaged by a recent wildfire.
A group of family and friends had met up for a daytrip along the popular Cold Springs swimming hole and were playing in the water Saturday afternoon when muddy flood waters came roaring down the canyon.
The group had set out chairs to lounge on a warm summer day when miles upstream an intense thunderstorm dumped heavy rainfall on the mountain.
Five of the nine bodies recovered were children. The victims ranged in age.
In a Facebook post, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office said it had identified the victims: 57-year-old Selia Garcia Castaneda, 27-year-old Maria Raya-Garcia, 24-year-old Maribel Raya-Garcia, 19-year-old Javier Raya-Garcia, 13-year-old Jonathan Leon, 7-year-old Daniel Garnica, 5-year-old Mia Garnica, 3-year-old Emily Garnica and 2-year-old Erica Raya-Garcia.
A GoFundMe was established to help the family pay for the funerals.
A woman who was hiking to the swimming hole said she saw people clinging to trees after the water rushed down a normally calm creek near the trail.
“My deepest prayers go out for all those lost in yesterday’s flooding, for their families, and for the entire community,” said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. “In addition to the Arizona Department of Public Safety providing air support, Arizona will continue to work closely with local officials during this tragedy and make any necessary resources available.”
Video Disa Alexander shot shortly after the flood showed a man in a tree holding his baby as water rushed around him. His wife was a short ways away from him, also clinging to a tree.
Alexander says there was no warning before the wall of water hit.
Four people rescued by helicopter Saturday were taken to the hospital for hypothermia.
“There’s no way of knowing how many people were actually there,” Sattelmaier said. “It’s pretty much recovery (now). We don’t believe there’s anybody left out there.”
The thunderstorm hit about eight miles upstream along Ellison Creek, which quickly flooded the narrow canyon where the swimmers were enjoying a cool dip on a hot summer day.
“They had no warning. They heard a roar and it was on top of them,” Sattelmaier said.
There had been thunderstorms throughout the area near Payson, about an hour and half’s drive from Phoenix, but it wasn’t raining where the swimmers were. It happened during monsoon season, when weather like this can strike furiously.
YouTube user Trent Shue posted a video labeled “Flash flood 7/15/17 Payson” that appeared to show the force of a flash flood in the area on the same day.
“I wish there was a way from keeping people from getting in there during monsoon season. It happens every year. We’ve just been lucky something like this hasn’t been this tragic,” Sattelmaier said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.