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Rafter found dead in Grand Canyon after flash flooding hits Arizona

Firefighters rescuing people from vehicle caught in flood
Firefighters rescue a man and his two daughters from the roof of their vehicle after it was swept away in fast-moving water just north of Tucson.
(Golder Ranch Fire District)

One person who went missing from a Colorado River rafting trip in the Grand Canyon during a flash flood was found dead Thursday in frigid water while a second person was found alive, a park spokeswoman said.

The flood was part of monsoon storms that have inundated Arizona this week, including in Flagstaff, where city streets were left a muddy mess as water carrying logs and debris swept through. Cleanup was underway Thursday with the threat of more rain looming.

At the Grand Canyon, a torrent of water rushed through a slot canyon and washed away the camp where two commercial rafts with 30 passengers had gone ashore for the customers to stay Wednesday evening, said Grand Canyon spokeswoman Joelle Baird.

Authorities initially believed that two people had been swept into the river, and launched a search by air, ground and water to find them. One was found at the camp that the group had abandoned to seek a safer place to sleep, Baird said. The other was found dead in the water next to the camp that flooded, she said.

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A park helicopter took two paramedics to the river late Wednesday to treat and stabilize the injured rafters after receiving a satellite phone call from someone on the trip asking for help. Seven injured passengers were airlifted out of the canyon, said Baird, who was not certain of the extent of their injuries.

The camp was set up about 40 miles downstream from where the rafts launched at Lees Ferry, near the Arizona-Utah state line. Baird said the park would help other rafters who want to cut their trip short get off the river.

The death toll from catastrophic flooding across parts of western Germany and Belgium rises to 125, with hundreds of people still unaccounted for.

The flood turned the normally greenish-colored river into a muddy brown. Forecasters had issued a flash flood watch for the area Wednesday, but it’s not clear whether the rafting guides were aware of it.

Radar showed about an inch of rain along that stretch of the Colorado River, according to the National Weather Service.

Park officials did not immediately release the name of the rafter who died. At least two other people have died this year on Grand Canyon rafting trips that draw tens of thousands of tourists, locals and researchers annually.

James Crocker, 63, of Colorado died after he fell into the river at the top of a rapid in June. Members of his private boating group pulled him out of the water but couldn’t revive him.

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

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The entire Southwest, which has been desperate for rain after two years of dismal monsoon activity, has been hammered lately with storms. More rain is in the forecast.

In Tucson, a fire department swift-water team rescued a father and his two daughters from the roof of their vehicle Wednesday after they drove into a usually dry wash and got stranded in the floodwaters, said Golder Ranch Fire District spokesman Capt. Adam Jarrold.

Farther north, in Flagstaff, floodwaters have 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 been somewhat prepared for a major flood with sandbags around their homes and concrete barriers to redirect water. Still, many of them have been digging out.

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Flagstaff and Coconino County declared a state of emergency over the monsoon flooding, opening up funding and allowing officials to request state assistance, according to a news release.

The threat of flash flooding will remain through next week, the National Weather Service said, though the threats will be more scattered than widespread.


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