Flash floods in Death Valley National Park closed all roads into the park, buried cars and left about 1,000 people stranded on Friday.
A deluge brought “a whole year’s worth of rain in one morning” to the famously hot and dry park California desert. At least 1.7in (4.3cm) of rain fell in the Furnace Creek area; Average annual rainfall for the park is 1.9in (4.8cm).
About 60 vehicles were buried in the debris, leaving about 500 visitors and 500 park employees stranded, park officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries and the California Department of Transportation estimated it would take four to six hours to reopen a road that would allow park visitors to evacuate.
This is the second major flood event in the park this week. Some roads were closed Monday due to mud and debris from flash floods that hit western Nevada and northern Arizona hard.
The rain started around 2 a.m., said Arizona-based adventure photographer John Chirlin, who saw the flooding while sitting on a cliff trying to photograph lightning as the storm approached.
Videos and photos posted by Sirlin on social media showed rushing water, uprooted palm trees and cars stuck in debris.
“It’s more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Chirlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona and has been visiting the park since 2016. He is a leading guide for incredible weather adventures and said he started chasing storms in Minnesota. and the High Plains in the 1990s.
“I’ve never seen it to the extent of whole trees and boulders coming down. The noise from some rocks coming down the mountain was unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
“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 he didn’t see anyone injured “or a high water rescue.”
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 flood warning remains in effect until the evening, the National Weather Service said.
The Associated Press contributed reporting