At least nine people were killed and at least one other was believed missing after floodwaters from a sudden rainstorm barrelled through a normally tranquil swimming area in Tonto National Forest in Arizona where more than 100 people were taking refuge from summer heat, authorities said Sunday.
Some of those washed downstream clung to trees until rescuers reached them.
The flash-flooding hit Saturday afternoon at Cold Springs canyon, about 160 kilometres northeast of Phoenix, and some people were washed several kilometres downstream.
Disa Alexander was hiking to the swimming area where Ellison Creek and East Verde River converge when the storm hit and the water suddenly surged. She was still about four kilometres away when she came up a man holding a baby and clinging to a tree. His wife was nearby, also in a tree.
‘Like a really big mudslide’
Alexander and others tried to reach them but couldn’t. 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.”
The U.S. National Weather Service, which had issued a flash flood warning, estimated up to 96 millimetres of rain fell over the area in an hour. The thunderstorm hit about 13 kilometres 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 Chief Ron Sattelmaier said.
Deaths include 1 child
Three bodies were pulled out Saturday and five more Sunday. The deaths include at least one child. Four people rescued by helicopter Saturday were taken to the hospital for hypothermia.
There had been thunderstorms throughout the area, but it wasn’t raining where the swimmers were at the time. But it happened during monsoon season, when…