Flash flooding in the Grand Canyon forced a closure around the Havasu Falls area this week and led authorities to evacuate close to 200 tourists by helicopter.
As USA Today reported, heavy rains led to flooding in the remote area of the canyon. Visitors who were in campgrounds between Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls were moved to a different village close to two miles away, and the group spent the night in a community center and school. Authorities had to airlift at least some of the campers out of the area.
Local officials had the help of some members of the nearby Native American community, who stayed behind to make sure everyone made it to safety.
“The hiking community has me speechless,” local hiker Brian Volk said in a Facebook post. “Some of the hikers who went through the ordeal last night are offering to stay and help, rather than be evacuated. Imagine scrambling in fear for your life, losing your wallet, clothes, packs, sleeping in cramped conditions with only the clothes on your back. Then offering to stay and help.”
There were others who helped, including a local hotel that provided free breakfast and the use of showers and telephones to evacuees.
As USA Today reported, heavy rains led to two waves of floodwaters that hit on Wednesday and Thursday. Officials traditionally warn visitors that flash flooding can strike at any time and even when there is no rain in the immediate area, advising hikers to move to higher ground if they encounter a sudden rainstorm or see floodwaters approaching.
The Havasu Falls area has been hit with flooding in the past, including a 2008 flood so strong that it actually reshaped the canyon.
“Greg Fisk of the U.S. Geological Survey, says more than 6 inches of rainfall upstream sent a roiling mass through normally dry channels,” ABC News reported in 2009. “Near Supai, Havasu Creek’s flow surged from a normal 65 cubic feet per second to 6,000.”
“Although there have been much larger inundations, Fisk says, canyon conditions made this one hit with devastating force. Floodwaters carved a new streambed, toppled ash and cottonwood trees, and tossed RV-size boulders aside.”
The 2008 flash flooding actually moved through the Grand Canyon with such force that it carved out a new waterfall along the way, officials said.
Officials said the area of the Grand Canyon will likely remain closed for the next seven to 10 days after the flash flooding that struck this week.