The deadly Utah flooding, which decimated areas of the southern portion of the state this week, has now officially claimed 20 lives. Associated Press is reporting that the body of a 33-year-old victim was recovered on Thursday. He was killed by the tragic flash flooding that swept away two cars full of people last Monday. The lives of at least 12 additional people, consisiting of three FLDS mothers and their children, were lost in the deluge. One 6-year-old boy is still missing.
More deadly flooding took place in Utah at nearby Zion National Park. There, seven tourists from California and Nevada lost their lives when they were caught in a slot canyon during a torrential downpour.
While Southern Utah is certainly no stranger to flash flooding, the last week’s flooding events were historic. The Washington Post is calling the floods “likely the deadliest weather event anywhere in the U.S. so far this year.” NOAA called the rains “a once in 100 years event” for the border town of Hildale. The floods were also by far the deadliest in Utah history.
The second-deadliest flooding disaster in Utah history occurred back in 1965. In that incident, seven family members lost their lives while camping in Sheep Creek Canyon.
Fox 13 Now has reported that family members of the Hildale victims of the flooding spoke to the media on Thursday. Sheldon Black and Joseph Jessop were the fathers of all of the children and the husbands to all three of the women who lost their lives in the flooding. They are also members of the embattled and secretive FLDS church.
Black lost his wife and all but two of his children in the flooding. He first addressed the media by giving thanks for rescue efforts and the outpouring of support he and his children have received. Then, he steered the conversation away from the recent Utah flooding. Why? To address the issue of FLDS property, which is now being managed by the State of Utah.
“Our family, with hundreds of other families, have been evicted from their homes because they will not forsake their religious beliefs.”
Jessop lost two wives and all but one child in last week’s tragic flooding event. He continued in the same vein, also claiming that his family was recently evicted.
“Many have come to offer their condolences, have wondered what they can do to comfort us in our time of great need. We ask that this religious genocide stop.”
The FLDS church’s leader and self-proclaimed prophet, Warren Jeffs, is currently incarcerated in a Texas prison. He was sentenced in 2011 to life in prison plus 20 years for two felony counts of child sexual assault. Since that time, the State of Utah has been overseeing the trust which manages the distribution of formerly FLDS church-owned property.
Prior to Jeffs’ arrest and incarceration, the members of the FLDS church gave ownership of their land and homes to Jeffs and the FLDS church. Since the State of Utah took over assets, actual ownership of particular homes/tracts is difficult to prove. This has left some families being required to pay “occupancy fees” to the trust managed by the State of Utah, in order to stay in the homes they’d lived in prior to Jeffs’ incarceration.
The issue of the state-run FLDS trust has been a hot, divisive issue in Utah for years now. So much so that the husbands and fathers of the deceased victims of the recent Utah flooding used their time in the spotlight to address it.
Even in the wake of the Utah flooding, Tonia Tewell, the founder a non-profit that helps people leaving polygamy, responded to the accusations.
“You’re in a state that prides itself on religious freedom. They are being kicked out because they are not paying their occupancy fees. If they would step up and pay that occupancy fee, they would be excommunicated [by FLDS Church officials] out of Colorado City and Hildale.”
Social media users have had a few opinions about the FLDS church aspect of the recent Utah flooding, too.
No matter your stance on religious rights, church/state or the FLDS church in particular, the recent Utah flooding was undeniably tragic. This is why the timing of the FLDS fathers’ complaints seemed odd and even a bit tacky to some. These men recently lost a combined total of more than a dozen family members in the Utah flooding, and yet they’re talking about a property dispute?
[Image Courtesy: George Frey/Getty Images]