Rafter dies in Grand Canyon flash floods as monsoon rains inundate parts of Arizona


FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – A person who went missing from a rafting trip on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in a flash flood was found dead Thursday in freezing water while a second person was found alive, said a spokesperson for the park.

The flooding was part of the monsoon storms that flooded Arizona this week, including in Flagstaff where city streets left a muddy mess as water mixed with logs and debris swept through. The cleanup was underway on Thursday with the threat of more rain looming.

At the Grand Canyon, a torrent of water rushed into a slot canyon and swept away the camp where two commercial rafts with 30 passengers left the river to stay on Wednesday night, Grand Canyon spokeswoman Joelle Baird said. .

Authorities initially believed two people had been swept away in the river and launched an air, land and water search to locate them. One of them was found in the camp the group had abandoned in search of a safer place to sleep, Baird said. The other was found dead in the water next to the camp which was flooded, she said.

The motorized trip operated by Arizona Raft Adventures was to last over a week. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the company asked questions of John Dillon, executive director of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association which represents licensed outfitters in the canyon.

Dillon said he had yet to speak to company officials, one of whom was on another trip down the river. He said that although the outfitters were happy to hear that one rafter was found, they are saddened by the death of the other.

“Our hearts are broken that people traveling have lost someone, people at home have lost someone,” he said. “It matters more than anything else. “

A helicopter from the park took two paramedics to the river on Wednesday evening to treat and stabilize injured rafters after receiving a satellite phone call from a person on the trip asking for help. Seven passengers who were injured were airlifted out of the canyon, Baird said. She wasn’t sure the extent of their injuries.

Baird said the park would help other rafters who wish to shorten their trip to leave the river, she said.

Flooding hit the camp set about 40 miles downstream from where the rafts were launched at Lees Ferry, near the Arizona-Utah border, turning the normally greenish river into a muddy brown. Forecasters had issued a flash flood watch for the area on Wednesday, but it is not clear whether rafting guides were aware.

Radar showed about an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain along this stretch of the Colorado River, according to the National Weather Service.

Park officials did not immediately release the name of the deceased chevron. At least two other people have died this year on rafting trips in the Grand Canyon that attract tens of thousands of tourists, locals and researchers each year.

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James Crocker, 63, of Colorado, died after falling into the river atop a rapid in June. Members of his private boating groups lifted him out of the water but were unable to revive him.

Deborah Ellis, 60, of Idaho, died after the commercial raft she was on hit rapids and overturned in late April. An autopsy report released to The Associated Press in response to a request for public documents determined that she had drowned.

The entire southwest, which is in desperate need of rain after two years of dismal monsoon activity, has recently been rocked by storms. More rain is in the forecast.

In Tucson, a fire crew rescued a father and his two daughters from the roof of their vehicle on Wednesday after they got stranded in flood waters, said Captain Adam Jarrold, spokesperson for the fire district. of Golder Ranch.

“Our message, telling everyone, be patient, especially here in the wilderness,” he said. “The water is rising fast, but it is moving just as quickly.”

Further north in Flagstaff, floodwaters inundated communities in the shadow of a mountain that burned in 2019 and adjacent neighborhoods, sending at least one vehicle floating down a city street. Residents had somewhat prepared for a major flood with sandbags around their homes and concrete barriers to redirect water. Still, many of them dug.

Flagstaff and Coconino County have declared a state of emergency following the monsoon flooding, opening funding and allowing authorities to seek state aid, according to a press release.

Flagstaff can likely recoup some of the costs of responding to and repairing flood damage from wildfires under recent state law. Cities can also be reimbursed for providing emergency shelter and support to displaced people, but this does not allow spending to repair individual houses.

The threat of flash flooding will persist until next week, the National Weather Service said, although the coverage is more scattered than widespread.

“The humidity isn’t going anywhere and it will heat up too, so these are perfect ingredients for afternoon and evening thunderstorms in Arizona,” said Evan LaGuardia, meteorologist at Flagstaff.

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Associated Press editors Bob Christie and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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