Tourists escape flash floods in Death Valley;  roads to remain closed for days

Tourists escape flash floods in Death Valley; roads to remain closed for days

Hundreds of hotel guests caught by flash flooding at Death Valley National Park were able to drive off after crews cleared a path through rocks and mud, but roads damaged by floodwaters or clogged with debris were expected to remain closed into next week, officials said Saturday .

The National Park Service said Navy and California Highway Patrol helicopters are conducting aerial searches in remote areas for stranded vehicles, but none have been found. However, it could take days to assess the damage – the park near the California-Nevada state line has more than 1,000 miles of road across 3.4 million acres.

No injuries were reported from Friday’s heaviest rains on record. The field weathered 1.46 inches of rain at the Furnace Creek area. That’s about 75% of what the area usually receives in a year, and more than ever recorded for the entire month of August.

In this photo provided by the National Park Service, cars are stuck in mud and debris from flash flooding at The Inn at Death Valley in Death Valley National Park, California, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Heavy rain triggered flash flooding that closed several roads in Death Valley National Park on Friday near the California-Nevada line. The National Weather Service reported that all roads in the park were closed after 1 to 2 inches of rain fell in a short amount of time.

National Park Service via AP

Since 1936, the only day with more rain was April 15, 1988, when 1.47 inches fell, park officials said.

Nikki Jones, a restaurant worker who lives in a hotel with fellow employees, said it was raining when she left for breakfast on Friday morning. By the time she returned, the water was pooling rapidly after reaching the bedroom door.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Jones said. “I’ve never seen water rise so fast in my life.”

In case the water came into her room on the ground floor, Jones and her friends put their luggage on beds and used towels at the bottom of the door to keep water from flowing in. For two hours, they wondered if they would be under water.

“People around me were saying they’ve never seen anything this bad before – and they’ve worked here for a while,” Jones said.

Although her room was saved, five or six other rooms in the hotel were flooded. These rooms were later carpeted.

Most of the rain — just over an inch — came in an epic downpour between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday, said John Adair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

The flood “cut off access to and from Death Valley, but washed out roads and produced a lot of debris,” said Adair.

Highway 190 — a main artery through the park — between Furnace Creek and Pahrump, Nevada, is expected to open by Tuesday, officials said.

Flash flooding leaves hundreds stranded in Death Valley National Park
Flash flooding damages a road in Death Valley National Park, located on the California-Nevada border. August 5, 2022.

National Park Service

Park employees stranded by the closed roads are continuing to shelter in place, except in an emergency, officials said.

“All the trees and boulders were washing down,” said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company who saw the flooding while sitting on a boulder on a hillside, where he was trying to capture pictures of the lightning. take as the storm approaches.

“The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain was just incredible,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

In most areas water has receded, leaving behind a dense layer of mud and gravel. About 60 vehicles were partially buried in mud and debris. There were many reports of road damage, and residential water lines in the Cow Creek area of ​​the park were broken in several places. About 20 palm trees fell onto the road near one guesthouse, while several staff houses were also damaged.

“With the intensity and widespread nature of this rain it will take time to rebuild and reopen everything,” park superintendent Mike Reynolds said in a statement.

The storm followed severe flooding earlier this week in the park 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Several roads were closed Monday after being inundated with mud and debris from flash floods that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona.

It started raining Friday around 2 a.m., according to Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, and has been visiting the park since 2016.

“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen out there,” said Sirlin, the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures who began chasing storms in Minnesota and the high plains in the 1990s.

“There were a lot of washes running several feet deep. There’s probably 3 or 4 feet of rocks covering the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, heavy rain also fell in Las Vegas, where Water poured into casino ceilings.

Several other national parks have experienced major flooding this summer. In June, saw Yellowstone historic flood levels which washed away many of the park’s roads and forced the evacuation of tourists. Some of the roads are still closed for repairs.

The National Park Service said climate change is affecting most of its properties and surrounding towns — from rising sea levels in Florida’s Everglades to drought-fueled fires in California’s Yosemite.

Elsewhere, parts of Kentucky were hit by floods at the end of July. At least 35 people died, and hundreds lost their homes.

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