9 family members dead, 1 missing in Arizona flash flooding

By Allen Cone  |  Updated July 17, 2017 at 10:08 AM
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July 16 (UPI) -- Nine extended family members from Phoenix died and another one is missing after being swept away in flash flooding in central Arizona, authorities said Sunday.

Four other family members were rescued from the Cold Springs Swimming Hole inside Tonto National Forest north of Payson, the Gila County Sheriff's Office said. Payson is 88 miles north of Phoenix.

Deputies said they received a 911 call at 3:19 p.m. Saturday about people missing.

Four bodies were initially found, the sheriff's office posted on Facebook on Sunday morning.

The victims range in ages from 24 months to the late 60's, the sheriff's office said.

More than 100 people were in the swimming hole when a severe thunderstorm hit a nearby remote area that had been burned over by a recent wildfire, Water Wheel Fire and Medical District Fire Chief Ron Sattelmaier said.

Ellison Creek flooded the narrow canyon where the family members were swimming.

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

A search and rescue mission is continuing for one missing family member by the Gila County Sheriff's Office, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, Arizona Department of Public Safety Ranger Helicopter, Whispering Pines Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service.

On Sunday, the National Weather Service in Tucson issued a flash flood watch for much of Arizona, including the greater Phoenix area. Rainfall in excess of 2 inches is forecast, resulting in flooded roadways and in normally dry washes, the NWS said. Wind gusts in excess of 60 mph are possible, including blowing dust.

"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.

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