Adults, teens and children as young as two were out enjoying time with family on a summer afternoon by playing in an Arizona creek when the gentle waters suddenly turned into a deadly flash flood.
The group of 14 from the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas had planned out a day of fun on Saturday along a favorite swimming hole near Payson, about 100 miles northeast of the capital.
It was so bad that the storm relinquished six-foot-high floodwaters, dark with ash from a summer inferno, onto the unaware family and friends. The downpour carried away tree branches and other debris and when it was done, had left a wake of nine bodies strewn across the area. Search and rescue crews, including 40 people on foot and others in a helicopter, found the bodies of five children and four adults, with some of the bodies being at least two miles down river. Authorities did not identify them.
A 27-year-old father of three, Hector Miguel Garnica, has yet to be found. The bodies of his wife Maria Raya, who would have been 26 on Sunday, and their three kids – three-year-old Emily, five-year-old Mia and seven-year-old Hector Daniel – were unfortunately killed and pulled from the water.
The rest of the victims that were named in the incident are listed according to the Arizona Republic: Maribel Raya, 24 (Maria’s sister), and her daughter Erika, two; Javier Raya, 14 (Maria’s brother); Selia Garcia, 60 (Maria’s mother); and Jonathan Leon, 13 (Selia’s grandson).
Four other members of the group that Saturday – two adults and two children – were able to be rescued from the waters, though they had to be hospitalized for hypothermia. They are now recovering at home.
Disa Alexander was hiking to the swimming area where Ellison Creek and East Verde River converge when the water suddenly surged.
Video she posted to social media showed torrents of water surging through jagged canyons carved in Arizona’s signature red rock.
‘I could have just died!’ Alexander exclaimed on the video.
She spotted a man holding a baby and clinging to a tree. Nearby, his wife was also in a tree. A boy Alexander described as the couple’s son was on the rocks above the water.
Had they been swept downstream, they would have been sent over a 20-foot waterfall, Alexander said.
Alexander and others tried to reach them but couldn’t. Fortunately help was close by.
Some search and rescue team members were already near the swimming hole after getting a call to help someone who had suffered a bad allergic reaction, according to Detective Sgt. David Hornung of the Gila County Sheriff’s Department.
When they arrived at the scene, ‘they heard someone screaming for help and saw a man clinging to a rock,’ said Hornung, who added that the man was safely rescued…’
There were 40 rescuers, all wearing bright orange T-shirts and helmets that combed the waters and banks, helping who they could find, and continuing to search for those they could not. The search continues.
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