Tue, Jul 18, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Deadly flood hits Arizona swim hole


Nine people died and a 13-year-old boy was missing on Sunday after their group of family and friends was swept away while cooling off in a creek that suddenly turned treacherous when a rainstorm upstream unleashed floodwaters in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.

Gila County Sheriff’s Office Detective David Hornung told reporters that the group from the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas had met up for a day trip along the popular Cold Springs swimming hole near Payson in central Arizona and were playing in the water on Saturday afternoon when muddy flood waters came roaring down the canyon.

The group, aged between two and 60, had set out chairs to lounge on a warm summer day when an intense thunderstorm upstream dumped heavy rainfall on the mountain.

Disa Alexander said was hiking to a swimming area where Ellison Creek and East Verde River converge when the water suddenly surged, adding that she was still about 3km away when she spotted a man holding a baby and clinging to a tree, whose wife was nearby, also in a tree.

Had they been swept downstream, they would have been sent over a 6m waterfall, Alexander said.

Alexander and said she and others tried to reach them but could not, adding that rescuers arrived a short time later.

“We were kinda looking at the water; it was really brown,” she said. “Literally 20 seconds later you just see like hundreds of gallons of water smacking down and debris and trees getting pulled in. It looked like a really big mudslide.”

Video she posted on social media showed torrents of water surging through jagged canyons carved in Arizona’s signature red rock.

“I could have just died,” Alexander says on the video, which shows the people in the tree and then rescuers arriving on the scene.

A boy Alexander said was the couple’s son was on the rocks above the water.

Search and rescue crews, including 40 people on foot and others in a helicopter, recovered the bodies of five children and four adults, some as far as 3km down the river.

Authorities did not identify them.

Four others were rescued on Saturday and taken to Banner Heart Hospital in nearby Payson for treatment of hypothermia.

Rescuers got to the four victims quickly after the crew heard their cries while they were nearby helping an injured hiker.

Daniel Bustamante, 16, sat on a bench with his friend Daniel Rodriguez outside the local mortuary in Payson where victims were brought.

He said he came from Phoenix after getting a Snapchat message from a friend.

The flash flooding hit on Saturday afternoon at Cold Springs canyon, about 160km northeast of Phoenix, a popular recreation area reached by relatively easy hiking paths. Some know it as Ellison Creek or Water Wheel swimming holes.

Hornung said the treacherously swift waters gushed for about 10 minutes before receding in the narrow canyon, adding that floodwaters reached about 1.8 high and 12m wide.

The US National Weather Service said up to 3.8cm of rain fell over the area in one hour.

The thunderstorm hit about 13km upstream along Ellison Creek, which quickly flooded the narrow canyon where the swimmers were.

“They had no warning. They heard a roar, and it was on top of them,” Water Wheel Fire and Medical District Fire Department Chief Ron Sattelmaier said.

There had been thunderstorms throughout the area, but it was not raining where the swimmers were at the time.

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