At least nine people were killed, including five children, as a flash flood swept away unsuspecting family and friends at a popular swimming hole in Arizona and a desperate search was underway for a missing teen.
Search and rescue crews, including 40 people on foot and others in a helicopter, recovered the bodies of five children – some as young as two – and four adults some as far as two miles away. A 13-year-old boy was still missing as of early Monday. None of the victims were immediately identified.
The group from the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas had met Saturday for a day trip at a swimming hole near Payson, about 100 miles northeast of the capital. The intense thunderstorm caught everyone by surprise, unleashing 6-foot-high floodwaters mixed with trees and other debris onto the group.
The National Weather Service estimated 1.5 inches of rain fell over the area in an hour. The storm hit about 8 miles upstream along Ellison Creek, which quickly flooded the canyon where the swimmers were.
Gila County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. David Hornug said the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning about 1 1/2 hours before, “but unless they had a weather radio out there, they wouldn’t have known about it. There is no cell phone service out here.”
The swift waters gushed for about 10 minutes before receding in the narrow canyon, Hornung said.
“They had no warning. They heard a roar, and it was on top of them,” Water Wheel Fire and Medical District Fire Chief Ron Sattelmaier said.
While Arizona is known for its dryness, it gets bursts of heavy rains during the summer monsoon season. The severe thunderstorm was located in a remote area that had been burned by a recent wildfire, Sattelmaier said.
Sudden flooding in canyons has been deadly before. In 2015, seven people were killed in Utah’s Zion National Park when they were trapped during a flash flood while hiking in a popular canyon that was as narrow as a window in some spots and several hundred feet deep.
In 1997, 11 hikers were killed near Page, Arizona, after a wall of water from a rainstorm miles upstream tore through a narrow, twisting series of corkscrew-curved walls on Navajo land known as Lower Antelope Canyon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.