DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Record rainfall on Friday triggered flash floods in Death Valley National Park that swept away cars, closed all roads and stranded hundreds of visitors and of workers.
No injuries were immediately reported, but about 60 vehicles were buried in mud and debris and about 500 visitors and 500 park staff were trapped inside the park, officials said.
The park near the California-Nevada border received 1.46 inches (3.71 centimeters) 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.
Since 1936, the only day with more rain was April 15, 1988, when 1.47 inches (3.73 centimeters) fell, park officials said.
“Whole trees and rocks were washed away,” said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company, who witnessed the flooding as he perched 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.
Park officials did not immediately respond to requests for an update Friday evening.
The storm followed another major flood earlier this week in the park 120 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Some roads were closed on Monday after being inundated with mud and debris from flash floods that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona hard.
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.
“A lot of the washes were flowing several feet deep. There are probably 3 or 4 foot boulders covering the road,” he said.
Sirlin said it took her about 6 hours to walk about 35 miles (56 kilometers) out of the park from the Death Valley Inn.
“There were at least two dozen cars that were run over and stuck in there,” he said, adding that he hadn’t seen anyone injured “or any rescues on the high seas.”
During Friday’s thunderstorms, “floodwater pushed garbage containers into parked cars, causing the cars to crash into each other. Additionally, many facilities are flooded, including hotel rooms and commercial offices,” the park statement said.
A water supply system that supplies it to park residents and offices also failed after a line that was being repaired broke, the statement said.
A flash flood warning for the park and surrounding area expired at 12:45 p.m. Friday, but a flood advisory remained in effect into the evening, the National Weather Service said.