Flash floods in Arizona kill at least 8, including 2 children

At least nine people are dead after being caught in a flash flood in an Arizona river, after heavy bouts of rain.

PHOENIX (NYTimes, Reuters) - At least eight people were killed and two were still missing on Sunday (July 16) after flash flooding interrupted a family gathering in central Arizona over the weekend.

The Gila County Sheriff's Office said on Sunday that it had recovered eight bodies near a swimming hole near Payson, a small town about 145km northeast of Phoenix. The department's search-and-rescue operation continued Sunday afternoon, with assistance from the Arizona Department of Public Safety as well as from the Whispering Pines Fire Department, the U.S. Forest Service and the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, a volunteer search group.

Sergeant David Hornung, a Sheriff's Office spokesman, said three bodies were recovered on Saturday, and five more were found Sunday. At least two of the victims were children, he said. The authorities have not yet made the victims' identities public.

Four other people were rescued and taken to hospitals on Saturday, Hornung said, after the office received an emergency call around 3 p.m.

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The victims were enjoying the relatively cool temperatures north of Payson on a day trip, he said, adding that the area is a popular getaway for people from southern Arizona. He referred to the gathering as a "family group," though he said some members of the party were not related.

Hornung said most members of the group were from the Phoenix area, which, along with the rest of southern Arizona, has experienced inordinately hot temperatures this summer.

The swimming hole, Cold Springs, is part of the Verde River system, which winds through nearby canyons. Hornung characterised the river system as "fairly rugged" and said that it was "swim at your own risk". But he also said that despite previous flash floods in the region, it remained a popular destination.

The storm hit on Saturday, the first day of the region's monsoon season, which lasts from mid-July through September. Flash flooding is common in Arizona during those months. The state's low-lying roads and dry rivers and creek beds are particularly vulnerable to sudden downpours, with vegetation too sparse to slow the water's sudden onset. Along with the flooding, Saturday's storm caused several power failures, leaving thousands of people without electricity.