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Five children among nine family members killed in Arizona flash flood

World News | Published:

Torrential rains in the fire-scarred mountains miles away unleashed six-foot-high floodwaters darkened by ash from an earlier wildfire.

Emergency services outside The Water Wheel Camping Ground in Arizona (Alexis Bechman/Payson Roundup via AP)

Five children were among nine people killed in a flash flood at a swimming hole in Arizona during the weekend and all were part of an extended family, authorities said.

Three generations of the family were gathered at the swimming spot in the Tonto National Forest about 100 miles (160 kilometres) north-east of Phoenix on Saturday afternoon, police said.

Torrential rains in the fire-scarred mountains miles away unleashed six-foot-high floodwaters darkened by ash from an earlier wildfire and swept away the victims, aged between three and 57.

The creek under the First Crossing Bridge was hit by flash-flooding (Alexis Bechman/Payson Roundup via AP)
The creek under the First Crossing Bridge was hit by flash-flooding (Alexis Bechman/Payson Roundup via AP)

Searchers are continuing to look for a 27-year-old man who is the only person still missing from the group of 14 family members who gathered at the normally tranquil swimming hole north of Payson.

Authorities had initially said they were looking for a 13-year-old boy but later discovered he was among the victims and the older man was missing.

About 40 volunteer workers and four search dogs were looking for the man, Gila County Sheriff J Adam Shepherd said.

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Disa Alexander was hiking to the swimming area where Ellison Creek and East Verde River converge on Saturday 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.

She spotted a man holding a baby and clinging to a tree.

Nearby, his wife was also in a tree.

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Tonto Search and Rescue volunteers at work (Alexis Bechman/Payson Roundup via AP)
Tonto Search and Rescue volunteers at work (Alexis Bechman/Payson Roundup via AP)

A boy Ms Alexander described as the couple’s son was on the rocks above the water.

Ms Alexander and others tried to reach them but could not. 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, said Detective David Hornung of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.Four people were rescued and taken to hospital for treatment of hypothermia.

Those killed included five children – two-year-old Erica Raya-Garcia; Emily Garnica, three; Mia Garnica, five; Danial Garnica, seven; and Jonathan Leon, 13.

Also killed were Javier Raya-Garcia, 19; Selia Garcia Castaneda, 57; Maribel Raya-Garcia, 24, and Maria Raya-Garcia, 27.

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