DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Record-breaking rain caused flash flooding in Death Valley National Park on Friday, washing away cars, closing all roads and stranding hundreds of visitors and workers.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but about 60 vehicles were buried in mud and debris and about 500 visitors and 500 park employees were trapped inside the park, officials said.
Furnace Creek, a park near the California-Nevada state line, received 1.46 inches (3.71 centimeters) of rain. This is about 75% of what it usually gets in a year and higher than what was recorded in the entire month of August.
Since 1936, the wettest single day rainfall was April 15, 1988, when 1.47 inches (3.73 centimeters) fell, park officials said.
“Whole trees and boulders were down,” said Arizona-based adventure agency photographer John Chirlin, who saw the flood as he sat on a cliff trying to photograph lightning as the storm approached.
“The sound of some rocks coming down the mountain was unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
Park officials did not immediately respond to requests for updates Friday night.
The storm followed another major flooding event earlier this week in a park about 120 miles (193 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas. Some roads were closed Monday due to mud and debris from flash floods that hit western Nevada and northern Arizona hard.
According to Chirlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona and has been visiting the park since 2016, the rain started around 2 a.m. Friday.
said Chirlin, a leading guide for Incredible Weather Adventures who began chasing storms in Minnesota and the High Plains in the 1990s.
“There was a lot of washout several feet deep. The road was covered by rocks maybe 3 or 4 feet,” he said.
Sarlin said it took him about 6 hours to drive from near the lodge in Death Valley, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) out of the park.
“At least two dozen cars were crushed and stuck,” he said, adding that “or high water rescues” no one was seen injured.
During Friday’s downpour, “floodwater pushed dumpster containers into parked cars, causing the cars to crash into each other. Additionally, several facilities including hotel rooms and business offices were flooded,” the park statement said.
The water system that supplies it to park residents and offices also failed after a repaired line broke, the statement said.
A flash flood warning for the park and surrounding area expired at 12:45 p.m. Friday, but the flood warning will remain in effect through the evening, the National Weather Service said.
This story has been corrected to show the National Park Service now reported 1.46 inches of rain, not 1.7 inches as previously reported.