Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Monday, July 17, 2017 1:00 am

Arizona flash flood kills 9; teen missing

Associated Press

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, Ariz. – Nine people died and a 13-year-old boy was still missing Sunday after a furious flash flood tore through a group of family and friends cooling off in a creek in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona.

Gila County Sheriff's Detective David Hornung told The Associated Press 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 Saturday afternoon when muddy flood waters came roaring down the canyon.

The group had set out chairs to lounge on a warm summer day when miles upstream an intense thunderstorm dumped heavy rainfall on the mountain.

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 two miles down the river. The victims ranged in age from a 60-year-old woman to a 2-year-old girl. Authorities did not identify them. Four others were rescued Saturday and taken to Banner hospital in nearby Payson for treatment for hypothermia.

Crews were walking Sunday along the banks poking through debris, including tree trunks. They've scoured a 5-mile stretch down the East Verde River and will continue south.

The flash-flooding hit Saturday afternoon at Cold Springs canyon, about 100 miles northeast of Phoenix, a popular recreation area easily reached by relatively easy hiking paths.

Hornung said the treacherously swift waters gushed for about 10 minutes before receding in the narrow canyon. He estimated flood waters reached six feet high and 40 feet wide.

The National Weather Service, which had issued a flash flood warning, estimated up to 1.5 inches of rain fell over the area in an hour. The thunderstorm hit about 8 miles 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. There were no notices or warnings at the trailhead, Alexander said.