Five Children, Including Three Toddlers, Among the Dead in Arizona Flash Flood

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A horrific flash flood has left a community devastated after a family escaping the blistering Phoenix heat at a favorite Arizona watering hole died when a pounding thunderstorm upstream sent a wall of water and debris barreling down the gorge.

Authorities have confirmed three generations of The Raya family of Phoenix, were swept away when a six-foot wall of water, 40-foot-wide, filled with mud, earth, debris, boulders, and trees, rushed in seconds down the canyon, overcoming the family who authorities have said had no time to react.

Surviving members of the family have released the names of those killed and missing to the media.

Killed were Celia Garcia, 60, Maria Raya, 26, (who was celebrating her 26th birthday), her husband, Hector Miguel Garnica, 27, who is still missing, and three children, ages 3, 5, and 7. Also dead her sister, Maribel Raya, 24, her two-year-old daughter Erika, and younger brother Javier, 14 and Mrs. Garcia's grandson Jonathan Leon, 13.


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Other members of the family, a husband, wife and two small children, who were also on the day trip were found by authorities were rescued by helicopter and taken to an area hospital where they were treated and released.

Named one of Arizona's Best Swimming Holes, the Cold Spring swimming hole, on any given day, in the Tonto National Forest, near Payson, a 45-minute water hike up through the narrow canyon, in ankle deep water, is beautiful walk with granite rock formations, waterfalls, a scenic hike, to escape the heat.

Popular and well known, the hazards of flash floods are often ignored with unsuspecting swimmers failing to understand flash thunderstorms release damaging amounts of rain, which usually is absorbed into the ground.

The storms generated so much water the ground could not absorb it. The land also damaged by fire has little or no vegetation to slow the rushing water. Suddenly a rainstorm becomes a monster wall of muddy, murky, water with raging torrents pushing boulders and pulling trees from the roots.


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The Raya family, from what the Water Wheel Fire and Medical District fire chief Ron Sattlemaier explained, had seconds from the moment they heard the sound, which would have been a roar, if they turned to look, that would have been the amount of time they had to react. Seconds, if that, before the debris filled water swept them downstream.

The Water Wheel swimming hole, part of the Verde River creek, was filled with city dwellers on day trips looking to spend a quiet afternoon soaking up nature and escaping the record heat that has a grip on Phoenix over the past weeks.

Rescuers have found a family of three, a father holding a baby covered in mud managed to get to higher ground, separated from his wife, who was clinging to a tree.

Mandisa Alexander, who along with a group of hikers who were delayed in traffic, got to the park just as the hail started, waited it out for five minutes and then began the 45minute hike along the interior of the canyon to the central watering hole.

She told reporters, her group had about a mile left before they reached the main area of the swimming hole when "they considered jumping in. The water was nice and calm." She said it was seconds later they heard the roar and "a wall of waves just came rushing down," as reported in the Washington Post.

They group climbed to higher ground where they spotted several stranded hikers and families. Calling for help they managed to assist rescuers with locations.

Sources: Various

Image: Peyson Creek before and after. 

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