Flash Flood Kills Nine in Arizona

The flash flood that killed nine people in an Arizona river canyon began its deadly descent as an impressive but avoidable surge of churning water, black with cinders from a recent wildfire and choked with tumbling tree trunks and limbs.

By the time it reached a rocky swimming hole several miles downstream, it was a roaring torrent 6 feet (1.8 meters) high, and an extended family celebrating a birthday while seeking refuge from the summer heat had no warning – and no chance to escape. The bodies were found up to 2 miles (3 kilometers) away. Five other people were rescued, some of them clinging desperately to trees, and were treated for hypothermia and released.

As rescuers searched Monday for a 27-year-old man still missing about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of Phoenix, authorities identified the victims, who ranged in age from 2 to 60. Among them were three generations of a family. Five of the dead were children.

The victims had been lounging Saturday in the swimming hole, where rocks create pools and a series of small waterfalls. There the river narrows, squeezing the flow of water and increasing its deadly force. The river roared to life after a thunderstorm had dumped up to 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) of rain in an hour, prompting a flash-flood warning from the National Weather Service. Though the service sent out a flash-flood warning over cellphone networks, service in the remote area is patchy at best.

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