9 Killed In Arizona Flash Flood Were At Family Gathering

By Stina Sieg
Published: Monday, July 17, 2017 - 9:04am
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017 - 4:03pm
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(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
On July 15, this stream near Payson, Arizona, was 40 feet wide as flood waters swept through.

Nine people are dead and one is still missing after a flash flood swept 14 people away from a popular swimming hole outside of Payson. The search continues for a 27-year-old man who’s been missing since Saturday. 

The victims range in age from 2 to 57, and they were all at a family gathering Saturday afternoon when they were hit by a wall of black water, filled with ash and debris from a recent fire.

Authorities have identified the five children and four adults who died when the flood struck a popular swimming hole:

Selia Garcia Castaneda, 57
Danial Garnica, 7
Emily Garnica, 3
Mia Garnica, 5
Jonathan Leon, 13
Erica Raya-Garcia, 2
Javier Raya-Garcia, 19
Maria Raya-Garcia, 27
Maribel Raya-Garcia, 24


Sgt. Detective David Hornung, with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, said people had no warning, as the floodwater originated a few miles upstream, where it had rained heavily in an area recently burned by a wildfire.

"So there were tree limbs and stumps and sticks, and the water was black with the soot and the ash of the fire," Hornung said.

Hornung estimates the flood was rushing at 35 miles an hour and was impossible to outrun. Four were rescued, including a baby. He said, luckily, a search and rescue team was already in the area helping a hiker in distress.

"Had they had not been there, there would have been a real delay in getting assistance out here. It would have been at least 45 minutes to an hour before assistance would have got here," he said.

Hornung has been Gila County Sheriff’s Office more than a decade, and he said he’s never seen a flash-flood tragedy on this scale.

"Recovering children is probably one of the hardest things to do. And you don’t see a lot of the emotion come out of us here. It’s later that we have our moments," he said.

Officials here are urging people to be careful, especially in low-lying areas, as more monsoon rains are in the forecast this week.

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