The search for the remaining missing person, a 13-year-old boy, continued along the Verde River in the Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix, officials said. The bodies of a 2-year-old girl and another victim were found Sunday afternoon, Gila County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. David Hornung said.
Fourteen people in all were washed away when the flash flood struck at the Cold Springs Swimming Hole shortly before 3:19 p.m. Saturday local time (6:19 p.m. EDT), sheriff’s officials said. Four people were rescued on Saturday, Hornung said.
“It’s a tragedy,” Hornung said. As search and rescue teams looked for survivors, family members also searched for their loved ones on the banks of the river, he said. “I can’t even imagine what they’re going through,” he said.
Around 40 people from a search and rescue team and a state Department of Public Safety helicopter were involved in the search for survivors Sunday, Hornung said.
The area in recent months had suffered a series of forest fires that are believed to have created a large amount of debris that washed down through the creek and burst through the swimming hole on Saturday, the Payson Fire Department said.
Nearly an inch of rain is believed to have fallen between 1:15 p.m. and 3:55 p.m. local time on Saturday, according to the Automated Weather Observation Station in Payson, just south of the swimming hole.
On average, the area only receives 2.43 inches of rain for the entire month of July. The Verde River can rapidly swell during the periods of heavy rain, Hornung said. Arizona is in its monsoon season.
“Normally it’s just a trickle of a creek, but during the monsoon season it can go from a foot deep to 10 feet deep in a matter of minutes,” he said.
The Gila County Sheriff’s Office began a search and rescue operation around 3:30 p.m. after much of the heavy rainfall had already hit the area. Many of the roads and trails had already flooded and were closed.
The National Weather Service in Phoenix issued a flash flood watch that continues through Monday evening for the southern and central regions of Arizona.