By Brady McCombs
16 September 2015
HILDALE, Utah (Associated Press) – A van and SUV carrying three women and 13 children sat near the widening stream, waiting for the water to recede so they could cross back to their homes in a small, polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border.
But in an instant, flood waters engulfed them and the two vehicles were sucked downstream, bobbing in the turbulent water before they tumbled over an embankment. Only three children survived. Twelve of the 16 are dead. One is missing.
Virginia Black watched in horror from her house as she made a video of the once-in-a-century flash flood. "There goes the van!" says Black in a high-pitched voice. "It went over the thing. Oh dear."
Downstream, people rushed to where the vehicles came to a stop. One witness described a gruesome scene of body parts, twisted metal and a young boy who somehow survived.
"The little boy was standing there," Yvonne Holm recalled. "He said, 'Are you guys going to help me?'"
Some 20 miles to the north at Zion National Park, the same storm system sent flash floods coursing through a narrow slot canyon, killing four people and leaving three others missing. The group from California and Nevada in their 40s and 50s began their hike before officials closed the canyons that evening because of flood warnings, park spokeswoman Holly Baker said.
Flash floods are not uncommon in the area, but the volume and pace of Monday's rain was a "100-year event" in Hildale, said Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
The height of the storm lasted about 30 minutes, pouring 1½ inches of rain into a desert-like landscape with little vegetation and steep slopes.
Monday's weather event was like a bucket of water being poured onto a rock — it slid right off and began running downstream, picking up sediment to create the forceful, muddy mess that rushed through the city, McInerney said. Another half-inch of rain came within the hour.
"It just hit the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.
Residents called it the worst flood in memory for the sister towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, which is home base for Warren Jeff's polygamous sect. The majority of the 7,700 people in the two communities are followers of Jeffs' sect or have ties to polygamy.
The torrent was so fast, "it was taking concrete pillars and just throwing them down, just moving them like plastic," said Lorin Holm, who called the storm the heaviest in the 58 years he's lived in the community. [more]
By Nigel Duara and Matt Pearce
15 September 2015
Colorado City, Arizona (Los Angeles Times) – From the road, a surface street that stretches over the river, it’s nearly impossible to see the height or speed of the water.
“In an instant, our families are gone,” said Joseph Jessup, a member of one family who delivered a brief statement to television cameras Tuesday while choking back tears. His young son, also named Joseph, stoically stood by his side.
Jessup and his family are part of a sect that broke with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in part to continue the practice of polygamy. The sect, called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is distinguished by the women’s long, sleeved dresses and long braids. The sect is still reeling from the arrest of its leader, Warren Jeffs, in 2006.
Jeffs’ arrest and previous federal raids on polygamous compounds left the people here deeply suspicious of outsiders.
“We know God will heal our wounded heart,” Jessup said.
The canyon was hit by a “100-year flood,” Philip Barlow, mayor of Hildale, Utah, said Tuesday, as the region braced for a second, fiercer storm. […]
“This is one of the worst weather-related disasters in the history of the state of Utah,” Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox said at a news conference, announcing that the governor had activated the state National Guard to help with the search-and-recovery efforts. [more]