Grand Canyon floods breach earthen dam, force hundreds to evacuate by helicopter
Monday, August 18, 2008
PHOENIX -- Days of heavy rains around the Grand Canyon created flooding that breached an earthen dam Sunday and forced helicopters to pluck scores of residents and campers from the gorge. No injuries were immediately reported.
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.
The dam breaching was only one factor in the flooding, Blair said. The dam isn't a "huge, significant" structure, 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. Blair said authorities were still trying to contact some people known to be in the canyon, though the majority were accounted for.
Some hiking trails and footbridges were washed out after the dam breach about 45 miles upstream from Supai, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge. Trees were uprooted, the National Weather Service said.
About 150 people had fled by helicopter, and evacuations were to continue until dark for those who wanted to leave, Blair said.
The effort was initially intended to include about 200 campers and possibly 200 village residents, Blair said, but he didn't know how many them were taken out.
As much as 8 inches of rain since Friday 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 on Saturday night 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.
Rescuers tried to find visitors staying at the Supai Campground and escort them to safety, Oltrogge said.
Evacuees were being flown to a parking area 8 miles from Supai and then, if needed, bused to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Supai, said Tracey Kiest, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. She said about 30 people were there as of Sunday night.