Nine dead in Arizona flash flooding

The victims were swimming when the wall of water struck.

AYSON, Ariz. —  A flash flood in a popular swimming hole north of Payson killed nine people Saturday, and left several more missing, officials said Sunday.

The Gila County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call shortly after 3 p.m. MT Saturday about flooding at a swimming hole known as Cold Springs near the Water Wheel campground in the Tonto National Forest.

Water Wheel Fire and Medical District Fire Chief Ron Sattelmaier said more than a hundred people were in the Cold Springs swimming hole Saturday afternoon when a severe thunderstorm pounded down on a nearby remote area that had been burned over by a recent wildfire.

Three bodies were recovered Saturday and six others were found Sunday. Two adults and two children rescued by helicopter Saturday were taken to the hospital for hypothermia. Officials said Sunday afternoon that a 13-year-old boy is still missing.

The dead include four adults and five children, and authorities believe they are an extended family from Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Officials said that at least 40 volunteers were helping scour the area, which is about an hour and 45 minutes northeast of Phoenix.

"There's no way of knowing how many people were actually there," Sattelmaier said. "It's pretty much recovery (now). We don't believe there's anybody left out there."

The thunderstorm hit about 8 miles upstream along Ellison Creek, which quickly flooded the narrow canyon where the swimmers were enjoying a cool dip a on a hot summer day.

"They had no warning. They heard a roar and it was on top of them," Sattelmaier said.

There had been thunderstorms throughout the area near Payson, about an hour and half's drive from Phoenix, but it wasn't raining where the swimmers were. It happened during monsoon season, when weather like this can strike furiously.

"I wish there was a way from keeping people from getting in there during monsoon season. It happens every year. We've just been lucky something like this hasn't been this tragic," Sattelmaier said.

Flooding also threatened communities in Illinois after heavy rains hit late last week. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner issued a disaster declaration for three counties hit hard by floods and several areas along the Fox and Des Plaines rivers were expected to see even worse flooding.

State officials on Friday told the Chicago Tribune that about 6,800 buildings had been affected by "unprecedented" flooding north of Chicago, with damage expected to worsen as water flowed into the state from Wisconsin.

Lake County, Ill., officials said the Des Plaines River at Gurnee, Ill., was the highest it had been in 31 years. The river was expected to rise even more through the beginning of the week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.


The entire Chain O' Lakes system in northern Illinois was ordered closed to its 23,000 registered boats on Friday in anticipation of record high water levels.

In Fox Lake, Ill., about an hour northwest of Chicago, residents on Sunday were piling sandbags against the rising Fox River, which was expected to rise eight to nine inches by Tuesday. Fox Lake Village Administrator Anne Marin told WLS-TV that the flooding was the worst she had ever seen.

In western Pennsylvania, heavy rains caused Bear Run, the stream that flows below the popular Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home Fallingwater, to flood and overflow. On the site's Facebook page, officials said there was no damage to the interior of the house but that a plunge pool where the statue "Mother and Child" by sculptor Jacques Lipchitz sits was damaged.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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