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

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Hundreds of hotel guests trapped by flash floods at death valley national park were able to get out after crews cleared a path through rocks and mud, but roads damaged by floodwaters or choked with debris are expected to remain closed until next week, officials said Saturday.

The National Park Service said Navy and California Highway Patrol helicopters conducted aerial searches in remote areas for stranded vehicles, but found none. However, damage assessment could take days – the park near the California-Nevada border has more than 1,000 miles of roadway on 3.4 million acres.

No injuries were reported during Friday’s record rains. The park withstood 1.46 inches of rain in the Furnace Creek area. That’s about 75% of what the region typically receives in a year, and more than ever for the whole month of August.

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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, Calif., Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Heavy rains have 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 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 colleagues, said it was raining when she left for breakfast on Friday morning. By the time she returned, the rapidly pooling water had reached the door to the room.

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

Afraid of water entering their downstairs bedroom, Jones and his friends put their luggage on beds and used towels at the bottom of doors to keep water out. For about two hours they wondered if they would be flooded.

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

While their room was spared, five or six other hotel rooms were flooded. The carpet in these rooms was then ripped out.

Most of the rain — just over an inch — fell 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 floods “cut off access to and from Death Valley, simply washing away the roads and producing a lot of debris,” Adair said.

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

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

National Park Service


Park employees also stranded by closed roads continued to shelter in place except in emergencies, officials said.

“Whole trees and rocks were washed away,” said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company, who witnessed the flooding while perching on a rock on the hillside, where he was trying to take pictures of lightning as the storm approached.

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

In most areas the water has receded, leaving behind a thick layer of mud and gravel. About 60 vehicles were partially buried in mud and debris. There have been numerous reports of road damage, and residential water pipes in the Cow Creek area of ​​the park have been broken in several places. About 20 palm trees fell on the road near a hostel and some staff residences were also damaged.

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

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

Friday’s rain began around 2 a.m., according to Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Ariz., and has visited the park since 2016.

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

“Many washouts were flowing several feet deep. There are probably 3 or 4 foot boulders covering the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, heavy rains also flooded Las Vegas, where water poured into casino ceilings.

Several other national parks suffered severe flooding this summer. In June, Yellowstone saw historical flood levels which washed out many park roads and forced tourists to evacuate. Some roads remain closed for repairs.

The National Park Service said most of its properties and surrounding towns have been impacted by climate change — from rising sea levels in the Florida Everglades to Wildfires fueled by drought in California’s Yosemite.

Somewhere else, parts of Kentucky were hit by flooding end of July. At least 35 people died and hundreds lost their homes.

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