Grand Canyon Flooding Forces Evacuation of 400 People - NBC New York

Grand Canyon Flooding Forces Evacuation of 400 People



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    FLAGSTAFF, Arizona, August 18, 2008 (ENS) - Officers, deputies and rescuers from eight public safety agencies worked today and Sunday to evacuate more than 400 campers and residents from Supai Canyon after heavy rainfall and the breach of an earthen dam flooded the area. No injuries were immediately reported.

    On Saturday afternoon and evening, the Northern Arizona high country received heavy rainfall that resulted in partial flooding of Supai Canyon, a popular destination for hikers and campers famed for its majestic desert waterfalls. Supai Canyon is located 75 air miles west of the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

    Early Sunday morning, Coconino County officials learned that the Redlands earthen dam broke, allowing a high volume of water to rush down Cataract Canyon in a westerly direction, eventually feeding into Supai Canyon. The small dam, about 45 miles upstream from the Havasupai village of Supai, had formed a pond to provide water for livestock.

    Rescuers located visitors who were staying at the Supai campground above Havasu Falls and escorted them to a safe landing zone in Supai Village.

    About 170 campers and residents were flown Sunday to Hilltop in Arizona Department of Public Safety and Arizona National Guard helicopters.

    Then the evacuees were bused to an American Red Cross shelter located at the Hualapai Tribal Gymnasium in Peach Springs Arizona.

    Helicopters resumed the evacuation of about 120 more tourists and residents today.

    Search and rescue crews on the ground and in the air are searching for about 11 campers and tourists who remained unaccounted for today, said Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff's Department. Blair says it is important to remove them from the canyon as there still is the potential for additional flooding.

    The road into Havasupai is closed at Route 66 and Indian Road 18 leading into Hualapai Hilltop. Residents and campers will not be able to access Supai Village and the Havasupai Indian Reservation at this time.

    On Saturday, the Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center received information from Western Rivers Adventures that five unmanned rafts were observed floating down the Colorado River with personal floatation devices and other supplies still onboard.

    National Park Service employees believed the rafts belonged to a private boating party of 16 people. The entire party was located uninjured but stranded on a ledge at the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River. The group was out of reach of rescuers and vulnerable to rising waters fed by more rainfall overnight.

    On Sunday, the 16 stranded visitors were flown one at a time to the other side of the Colorado River where they boarded a helicopter to be flown to the Hualapai Hilltop. Those evacuees also were bused to the American Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, Arizona.

    Not everyone chose the evacuation route. Many residents and campers chose to stay in Supai, which is on high ground, Blair said.

    National Park Service employees are in the process of contacting members of rafting parties who have not yet reached the confluence, which is located at about river mile 157, to inform them of the flooding that has occurred in that area.

    The heavy rainfall in this arid area is a characteristic of the Arizona monsoon season from June 15 through September 30 - a time of high temperatures, high winds, and high moisture.

    Supai Canyon is an oasis in the middle of desert country on the Havasupai Nation reservation in Arizona. Supai Village is the home of the Havasupai Tribe, which has inhabited the Grand Canyon for centuries.

    Public safety agencies that are responding to this emergency include - Grand Canyon National Park, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Coconino County Sheriff's Office, Coconino County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Coconino County Emergency Services, the Arizona National Guard and American Red Cross.

    {Photo: One of the stranded rafters is taken off a ledge by helicopter on Sunday. (Photo courtesy NPS}

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