August 19, 2008

Hikers missing in Grand Canyon flooding found

Associated Press

A stranded rafter is lowered to shore after being short hauled across the Colorado River Sunday Aug. 17, 2008 in the Grand Canyon. An earthen dam broke near the Grand Canyon early Sunday after heavy rains that forced officials to pluck hundreds of residents and campers from the gorge by helicopter. (AP Photo/National Park Service)

PHOENIX — Rescue crews have located a handful of hikers who were missing after flooding struck a remote part of the Grand Canyon, authorities said today.

The 11 people from two families were tracked down in the canyon on Monday, Coconino County Sheriff's Department spokesman Gerry Blair said. They were the last to be accounted for after creeks overflowing with runoff from severe thunderstorms washed away trails during the weekend, stranding dozens of tourists.

"We have met them, and they're OK," Blair said.

Authorities were receiving more calls from people who believe their loved ones may still be in the canyon, Blair said. But everyone who followed the rules and signed in at the bottom of the trail into the remote area had been evacuated.

Rescue crews checked the hiking trails and surrounding gorges by helicopter and foot again today, and crews will do a more comprehensive ground search when the flood waters recede in a few days, Blair said.

Helicopters ferried about 255 people out of the canyon Sunday and Monday from the Havasupai Tribe's village of Supai, a remote community near the bottom of the canyon in an area west of Grand Canyon National Park headquarters. Many of the stranded tourists made their way to Supai before catching a helicopter ride to the rim.

Thunderstorms dumped 3 to 6 inches of rain on the entire region Friday and Saturday and about 2 inches more on Sunday. The storms sent a rush of water through parts of the canyon, uprooting trees and washing out trails and footbridges.

Mimi Mills, 42, of Nevada City, Calif., was stranded with 15 other river runners Saturday afternoon after a flash flood washed away their rafts. Mills said the group took shelter overnight under an overhang, but had to scramble up a cliff when another flash flood occurred in the middle of the night.

The Havasupai tribe is one of the smaller Indian communities in Arizona with some 679 members, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates from 2003, the latest statistics available.

The tribe's Supai village sits in a region that's popular for hikers and river runners, with towering blue-green waterfalls. About 400 people live there year-round.