Nine dead and boy missing in flash flood at Arizona swimming hole

Nine people have died 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 said 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 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.

A 13-year-old boy is still missing.

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

Rescuers got to the four victims quickly after the crew heard their cries while they were nearby helping an injured hiker.

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

The flash-flooding hit on Saturday afternoon at Cold Springs canyon, about 100 miles north-east of Phoenix, a popular recreation area easily reached by relatively easy hiking paths. Some know it was as Ellison Creek or Water Wheel swimming holes.

Mr Hornung said the treacherously swift waters gushed for about 10 minutes before receding in the narrow canyon. He estimated flood waters reached 6ft high and 40ft wide.

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

She was still about two-and-a-half miles away when she spotted a man holding a baby and clinging to a tree. His wife was nearby, also in a tree. Had they been swept farther downstream, they would have been sent over a 20ft waterfall, Ms Alexander said.

Ms Alexander and others tried to reach them but could not. Rescuers arrived a short time later.

"We were kind of 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."

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

"I could have just died!" she exclaims in the video, before showing images of the man in a tree and his wife.

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 eight 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.

AP


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