U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX — Days of heavy rains around the Grand Canyon created flooding that breached an earthen dam recently and forced helicopters to pluck scores of residents and campers from the gorge. No injuries were immediately reported.
Dozens of people though had to be evacuated.
"170 occupants of Supai Village and the campgrounds were safely airlifted to the Hualapai Hilltop area and subsequently bused to the American Red Cross evacuation reception center at a tribal gymnasium in Peach Springs, Arizona," said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge.
Rescuers from nine different public safety organizations worked together throughout the day to locate campers and village residents and safely transport them to the top of the canyon.
The helicopters lifting residents out were from the National Park Service, the National Guard and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Oltrogge said.
Rescuers were returning to the flooded area to conduct further searches for people who are unaccounted for, Oltrogge said.
The weather and dam breach caused flooding in a side canyon containing a village where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live and where some of the evacuations occurred, said Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff's Department.
There were no confirmed reports of damage in the village, Supai, which is on high ground, Blair said. Many residents and campers chose to stay there, Blair said.
"We're not as concerned about it as we initially were," he said.
Still, a flash flood warning remained in effect, and search and rescue teams planned to stay in the village overnight as a precaution.
Some hiking trails and footbridges were washed out after the dam breach about 45 miles from Supai, Oltrogge said. Trees were uprooted, the National Weather Service said.
Blair said the dam breaching was only one factor in the flooding. He said the dam wasn't a "huge, significant" structure.
As much as eight inches of rain caused trouble even before the dam was breached. A private boating party of 16 people was stranded on a ledge at the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River after flood waters carried their rafts away, Oltrogge said.
The boaters were found uninjured and were rescued from the Grand Canyon, whose floor is unreachable in many places except by helicopter.
The area received 3 to 6 inches of rain over two days and received about 2 more inches the following day, said Daryl Onton, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Flagstaff.
"That's all it took — just a few days of very heavy thunderstorms," he said.
Supai is about 75 miles west of the Grand Canyon Village, a popular tourist area on the South Rim.
The flooding came on a weekend during the busy summer tourist season, when thousands of visitors a day flock to the canyon for spectacular views, hikes or to raft its whitewater.
In 2001, flooding near Supai swept a 2-year-old boy and his parents to their deaths while they were hiking.
The Grand Canyon has been the traditional home of the Havasupai for centuries.