PHOENIX (Reuters) – Authorities searched on Monday for a missing man after a wall of water crashed down a swollen Arizona canyon, law enforcement officials said, reportedly killing his wife, her three children and five other family members at a popular swimming spot north of Phoenix.
Searchers scoured an area of the Tonto National Forest for an unidentified 27-year-old man who officials with Arizona’s Gila County Sheriff’s Office said was among a group of 14 family members enjoying a weekend retreat from Phoenix when flood waters raged on Saturday afternoon.
Authorities have not released the names of those who died. Arizona’s largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic, identified the missing man as Hector Miguel Garnica.
The group were swept down a creek after heavy rains hammered an area near Payson, about 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Phoenix, a sheriff’s spokesman said.
Authorities said the family was met by a sudden flash flood generated when a thunderstorm hit about eight miles away in an area that had been burned by a nearly 7,200-acre wildfire last month.
Officials with the National Weather Service said one to 1.5 inches fell in 20 to 30 minutes.
A video posted on social media showed a muddy, debris-filled torrent that hit Ellison Creek, rushing down a narrow canyon where the swimmers were taking in the cool waters at the popular spot in the Tonto National Forest.
Three bodies were recovered on Saturday, with the other six on Sunday, Hornung said.
The Republic identified the victims as Garnica’s wife Maria Raya, 25, her children, Emily, 3, Mia, 5, and Hector Daniel, 7, Raya’s sister Maribel Raya, 24, her daugher Erika 2, and Maribel’s brother Javier Raya 14.
Selia Garcia, 60, the mother of Maria, Maribel and Javier also died, along with Selia’s grandson Jonathan Leon, 13.
Forecasters said they were concerned about additional possible flash flooding projected for central and southern Arizona.
The National Weather Service in Phoenix said that most of Arizona was under flash flood watch until Monday evening, warning that the monsoon air mass over the region was very wet and conducive to heavy thunderstorm rain that could lead to flood or flash flooding.
Reporting by David Schwartz, additional reporting by Taylor Harris; Editing by Andrew Hay