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Nine Dead, Man Missing After Flash Flood at Arizona Swimming Hole

July 17, 2017 1:23 AM
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The aftermath of a deadly flash flood that struck a family gathering in Arizona took another grim turn Sunday as more bodies were recovered, bringing the total number of deaths to nine, officials said.

The search for the remaining missing person, a 27-year-old man, continued along the Verde River in the Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix, a sheriff's official said. The search was suspended for the night but will resume Monday, Gila County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. David Hornung said.

The remaining missing person was earlier described as a 13-year-old boy. The bodies of a 2-year-old girl and another victim were found Sunday afternoon, Hornung said.

Fourteen people were caught in the flash flood that struck at the Cold Springs Swimming Hole shortly before 3:19 p.m. Saturday local time (6:19 p.m. EDT), sheriff's officials said. Four people were rescued on Saturday and those injured have since been released from the hospital, Hornung said.

"It's a tragedy," Hornung said. As search and rescue teams looked for survivors, family members also searched for their loved ones on the banks of the river, he said. "I can't even imagine what they're going through," he said.

Around 40 people from a search and rescue team and a state Department of Public Safety helicopter were involved in the search for survivors Sunday, Hornung said.

The area in recent months had suffered a series of forest fires that are believed to have created a large amount of debris that washed down through the creek and burst through the swimming hole on Saturday, the Payson Fire Department said.

Nearly an inch of rain is believed to have fallen between 1:15 p.m. and 3:55 p.m. local time on Saturday, according to the Automated Weather Observation Station in Payson, just south of the swimming hole.

The rain that caused the fatal flash flood fell 6 to 8 miles north of the scene of the tragedy, Hornung said, before the rushing water and debris struck the group. He estimated the floodwaters were traveling at around 35 mph. Arizona is in its monsoon season.

"Normally it's just a trickle of a creek, but during the monsoon season it can go from a foot deep to 10 feet deep in a matter of minutes," he said.

The Gila County Sheriff’s Office began a search and rescue operation around 3:30 p.m. after much of the heavy rainfall had already hit the area. Many of the roads and trails had already flooded and were closed.

The National Weather Service in Phoenix issued a flash flood watch that continues through Monday evening for the southern and central regions of Arizona.


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