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Saturday 24 February 2018

Five children among nine family members killed in Arizona flash flood

The creek under the First Crossing Bridge following a deadly flash-flooding that ripped through the Tonto National Forest, Arizona. (Alexis Bechman/Payson Roundup/AP)
The creek under the First Crossing Bridge following a deadly flash-flooding that ripped through the Tonto National Forest, Arizona. (Alexis Bechman/Payson Roundup/AP)
The flooding in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona, came after a severe thunderstorm (Alexis Bechman/Payson Roundup/AP)

Five children were among nine people killed in a flash flood at a swimming hole in Arizona during the weekend and all were part of an extended family, authorities said.

Three generations of the family were gathered at the swimming spot in the Tonto National Forest about 100 miles (160 kilometres) north-east of Phoenix on Saturday afternoon, police said.

Torrential rains in the fire-scarred mountains miles away unleashed six-foot-high floodwaters darkened by ash from an earlier wildfire and swept away the victims, aged between three and 57.

Searchers are continuing to look for a 27-year-old man who is the only person still missing from the group of 14 family members who gathered at the normally tranquil swimming hole north of Payson.

Authorities had initially said they were looking for a 13-year-old boy but later discovered he was among the victims and the older man was missing.

About 40 volunteer workers and four search dogs were looking for the man, Gila County Sheriff J Adam Shepherd said.

Disa Alexander was hiking to the swimming area where Ellison Creek and East Verde River converge on Saturday when the water suddenly surged.

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

She spotted a man holding a baby and clinging to a tree.

Nearby, his wife was also in a tree.

A boy Ms Alexander described as the couple's son was on the rocks above the water.

Ms Alexander and others tried to reach them but could not. Fortunately, help was close by.

Some search and rescue team members were already near the swimming hole after getting a call to help someone who had suffered a bad allergic reaction, said Detective David Hornung of the Gila County Sheriff's Office.

Four people were rescued and taken to hospital for treatment of hypothermia.

Those killed included five children - two-year-old Erica Raya-Garcia; Emily Garnica, three; Mia Garnica, five; Danial Garnica, seven; and Jonathan Leon, 13.

Also killed were Javier Raya-Garcia, 19; Selia Garcia Castaneda, 57; Maribel Raya-Garcia, 24, and Maria Raya-Garcia, 27.

The National Weather Service estimated up to 1.5 inches of rain fell over the area in an hour.

The thunderstorm hit about eight miles (12 kilometres) upstream along Ellison Creek, which quickly flooded the narrow canyon where the swimmers were.

Mr Hornung noted that the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning about 90 minutes before, "but unless they had a weather radio out there, they wouldn't have known about it. There is no cellphone service out here."

While Arizona is known for its dryness, it gets bursts of heavy rains during the summer monsoon season.


Press Association

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