Evacuations as rain bursts dam near Grand Canyon

Monday, August 18th 2008, 11:04 am
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

PHOENIX (AP) -- About 50 tourists and Havasupai Tribe members spent the night in a shelter after being rescued by helicopter from flash flooding that tore out of a gorge off the side of the Grand Canyon.

Some people who were believed to be in the side canyon along Supai Creek were unaccounted for after the flood struck during the weekend. No injuries had been reported.

Rescuers planned to evaluate weather conditions and the level of flooding Monday morning before deciding when they could safely resume air evacuations, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge.

A shelter set up in a gymnasium in Peach Springs held about 50 evacuees early Monday, and American Red Cross representatives were making preparations for the possibility that more could be brought in, Red Cross spokeswoman Tracey Kiest said Monday. She said the shelter would stay open as long as it was needed.

One group of tourists was stranded on a ledge when the water started rising Saturday and washed away their rafts while they were hiking. They were rescued by helicopter Sunday.

"We heard quite a loud rush like a freight train going by," Cedar Hemmings said Monday on CNN. "We went down to where our boats ought to be and they weren't there."

His group lost all of its supplies, but they were able to collect rain water, Hemmings said. "We lost everything," he said in an interview Sunday.

The area of northern Arizona got 3 to 6 inches of rain Friday and Saturday and about 2 inches more on Sunday, said Daryl Onton, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Flagstaff. Early Monday, about 0.80 of an inch more fell on the area, the weather service said.

"That's all it took -- just a few days of very heavy thunderstorms," Onton said.

About 6 a.m. Sunday, the Redlands Earthen Dam broke about 45 miles upstream from the tribal village of Supai, park officials said. The dam isn't a "huge, significant" structure and its rupture was only one factor in the flooding, said Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff's Department.

Rescuers worked throughout Sunday to locate campers and Supai Village residents and evacuate them to the top of the canyon. About 400 Havasupai tribe members live in the village.

Many residents and campers chose to stay in Supai, Blair said. There were no confirmed reports of damage in Supai, which is on high ground, he said.

"We're not as concerned about it as we initially were," he said.

Some hiking trails and footbridges were washed out and trees were uprooted, according to park officials and the weather service.

Supai is about 75 miles west of Grand Canyon Village, the popular gateway to Grand Canyon National Park.

In 2001, flooding near Supai swept a 2-year-old boy and his parents to their deaths while they were hiking.


Associated Press Writer Mark Carlson contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)