Hiker missing in Utah flooding as monsoon hits US Southwest

Aug 21, 2022, 12:35 PM | Updated: 2:49 pm

SPRINGDALE, Utah (AP) — Authorities have been searching for days for an Arizona woman reported missing after being swept away by floodwaters in Utah’s Zion National Park as strong seasonal rain storms hit parts of the U.S. Southwest.

National Park Service officials said rangers and members of the Zion Search and Rescue Team were in the Virgin River area Sunday looking for Jetal Agnihotri, 29, of Tucson.

They said Agnihotri was among several hikers who were swept off their feet Friday afternoon by rushing water in the popular Narrows area in the park, known for its spectacular red-rock cliffs and narrow canyons, in southern Utah near the Arizona border.

All of the hikers except Agnihotri were found on high ground and were stranded until water levels receded.

Rain can turn hiking in the park deadly when the moisture runs off the desert landscape and quickly fills canyons with water, rocks and debris, especially during the summer when seasonal afternoon thunderstorms develop. The storms can lead to flooding in normally dry washes and in areas stripped of vegetation by wildfires that have plagued the drought-stricken region. Vegetation normally slows and partially absorbs precipitation.

On Sunday, an approximately 20-mile (32-kilometer) stretch of Colorado’s main east-west highway, Interstate 70, was temporarily closed because of the risk of flooding and mudslides from forecasted storms in Glenwood Canyon, where a wildfire burned in 2020.

Elsewhere in Utah, flooding in Moab, the gateway to Arches National Park, on Saturday night closed trails in the city on Sunday as crews assessed the damage. A video posted on the city’s Twitter account showed a creek gushing under a downtown bridge.

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, officials at Carlsbad Caverns National Park said about 150 tourists were evacuated late Saturday night after being stranded by rising water.

Park officials told people at the visitor’s center to wait there for hours because of flash flooding.

Authorities said several rivers and streams in New Mexico have nearly reached historic flood levels not seen since the 1960s due to recent heavy rainfall.

In Arizona, emergency crews rescued four hikers stranded in Sabino Canyon east of Tucson on Friday and helped 41 students and staff from Marana off school buses that got stuck in high water when the storms began to move in.

More than 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) of rain fell Saturday in the mountains northeast of Tucson, according to the National Weather Service.

The rain comes amid a drought that scientists say is the worst in the U.S. West in 1,200 years and aggravated by climate change. Colorado River reservoirs have fallen to historic lows as a result. Earlier this week, states that rely on the river missed a deadline for deciding how to cut the amount of water they use from the river.

For Nevada, recent storms have given the Las Vegas metro area its wettest monsoon season in 10 years.

“Most locales in Arizona, New Mexico, the California deserts, southern Nevada, and a few other scattered areas have measured at least 200 percent of normal (rainfall) over the past 2 months,” the U.S. Drought Monitor said in a report issued on Aug. 11.

_____

Associated Press writers Walter Berry in Phoenix and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Hiker missing in Utah flooding as monsoon hits US Southwest