FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — One person who went missing from a Colorado River rafting trip in the Grand Canyon during a flash flood was found alive Thursday while rescuers were searching for a second person.
The flood was part of monsoon storms that have inundated Arizona this week, including in Flagstaff where city streets were left a muddy mess when water filled with logs and debris swept through. Cleanup was under way Thursday with the threat of more rain looming.
At the Grand Canyon, a torrent of water through a slot canyon washed away the camp where two commercial rafts with 30 passengers had pulled off the river to stay Wednesday evening, said Grand Canyon spokeswoman Joelle Baird. Authorities initially believed that two people had been swept into the river but one was found uninjured Thursday at the camp that the group had abandoned to find a safer place to sleep, Baird said.
The second person was unaccounted for, Baird said. Rescuers were taking advantage of clear weather Thursday morning to do an aerial search of the river and deliver a light-weight vessel downstream from the camp that can travel up the river looking for anyone in the water.
The prospects of finding anyone alive in the frigid Colorado River is bleak, especially if the person had taken off their life jacket after getting off the raft, Baird said.
“Our search managers are also keeping that in mind, but we’re also optimistic,” she said.
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. The most critically injured passenger was airlifted to a hospital, and rescuers planned to fly out six others Thursday, Baird said.
No information on identities of the people or the extent of their injuries was immediately released. Baird said the park will work to get people who want to cut the trip short off the river, she said.
The flood hit the camp that is nearly 40 miles (64 kilometers) from where the rafts launched at Lees Ferry near the Arizona-Utah state line. Forecasters had issued a flash flood for the area Wednesday, but it’s not clear whether the rafting guides were aware. Baird declined to release the name of the company.
Radar showed about an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain along that stretch of the Colorado River where the water temperature is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius), the National Weather Service said.
The entire Southwest that has been desperate for rain after two years of dismal monsoon activity has been hammered lately, with more rain 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.
“Our message, telling everybody, be patient, especially here in the desert,” he said. “The water comes up quick, but it also goes away quick.”
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.
Flagstaff likely can recoup some of the costs for responding to and repairing flood damage related to wildfires under a recent state law. Cities can be reimbursed for providing emergency shelter and support for people who are displaced, but it does not allow spending to repair individual homes.
The threat of flash flooding will remain through next week, the National Weather Service said, though the coverage will be more scattered than widespread.
“The moisture is not going anywhere, and it will heat up as well, so those are perfect ingredients for thunderstorms in the afternoon and evenings in Arizona,” said Evan LaGuardia, a meteorologist in Flagstaff.