Governor tours flood area as Arizona sees 4 deaths in a week
PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday toured a small community where recent flooding inundated homes and led to two deaths, part of a trail of destruction in the state unleashed by a fierce monsoon season.
The governor praised the resiliency of the people of Gila Bend, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Phoenix, and other hard-hit areas.
“We knew early on that there would be challenges that come from this monsoon season — but as I look around me, it’s tough to comprehend just how devastating it’s been,” Ducey said. “I want every resident of Gila Bend to know that we are with you, and we are going to overcome this.”
Two additional deaths were reported this week, and several people were rescued, after a torrential downpour sent rainwater and debris rushing through a wash near Scottsdale.
Flooding has occurred across the state this summer, with heavy damage in the northern Arizona city of Flagstaff, the mining communities of Miami and Globe, and the desert areas surrounding Tucson and Phoenix.
Wildfires that denuded mountain areas outside Flagstaff in recent years and near Globe this year made runoff much worse.
The National Weather Service says Tucson, in southern Arizona, has seen nearly 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain this summer compared with an average of less than 6 inches (15 centimeters) from June through September.
Phoenix and other parts of the state have also seen a significant monsoon season, although not on par with Tucson.
The 2021 season follows near record-low summer rainfall across the Southwest in 2020.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said two people died Saturday in Gila Bend, which has a population of about 2,100, when heavy rains hit the area. One county flood control district rain gauge near Gila Bend measured 3.9 inches (9.9 centimeters) of rain in a 24-hour period ending Saturday.
The other two deaths were reported Thursday when an off-road vehicle was found buried in sand and debris in a wash about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Scottsdale following heavy thunderstorms. Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Calbert Gillett on Friday identified the victims as Scott Brown, 44 and Laura Brown, also 44, of Calvert County, Maryland.
Their bodies were recovered a day after witnesses reported seeing an off-road vehicle floating and tumbling down the flooded Camp Creek wash. Arizona washes are normally dry creek beds, but heavy rains can turn them into raging torrents.
Sheriff’s deputies rescued numerous people in the same area Wednesday afternoon and initially thought everyone had been found safe, Gillett said. But they later got a call from an off-road vehicle rental company reporting the people who rented a Polaris RZR all-terrain vehicle had never returned and had been in the area where earlier rescues were conducted.
A search using ground crews and a helicopter was unsuccessful, but crews returned Thursday morning and located the couple still in the ATV. They had to dig the vehicle out to recover the bodies.
In Gila Bend, the two people who died were identified as Blanca Ruiz and Jesus Perez. She was swept down the river bottom by floodwaters, and he was in a vehicle carried away by flooding.
Ducey on Friday announced a new $5 million program designed to help businesses affected by the pandemic, wildfires and flooding. The allocation will fund up to $10,000 for small businesses that award employees hiring or retention bonuses or pay relocation expenses.
Ducey previously declared a state of emergency in Gila Bend, and on Friday honored the local fire chief, who stayed on the job all weekend even though her own home was flooded. He called her an “inspirational leader.”
“Right now, Gila Bend has 28 firefighters — all volunteers — who are helping this community recover,” Ducey said. “The Gila Bend fire crew’s perseverance and altruism are exemplified by their fire chief, Arelia Henry.”