Flood in Grand Canyon; hundreds flown out by helicopter

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Updated 7:50 a.m., August 18

Rescuers will return to the Grand Canyon Monday morning after an earthen dam burst Sunday morning prompting helicopter evacuations at the Grand Canyon and Supai, a village where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live.

The Arizona National Guard, the National Park Service and the Department of Public safety airlifted about 170 residents, campers and river runners. Initially, crews anticipated evacuating nearly 500 people, but the majority chose not to be evacuated.

The helicopter in the video is, I believe, the Grand Canyon’s no tail rotor helicopter.

Rescue operations continued into Sunday night for campers and residents at the Grand Canyon caught in flood waters after an earthen dam weakened by heavy rains broke 45 miles upstream, said Maureen Oltrogge of the Grand Canyon National Park.

KPHO-TV in Phoenix reported that the Redlands Dam ruptured around 6 a.m. Sunday, triggering flooding near Supai, at the bottom of the canyon, Oltrogge said. Supai is home to about 400 Havasupai Reservation tribal members. The town is located about 30 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village, a popular tourist area on the canyon’s south rim.

The town was not flooded, but there were an estimated 247 campers at a nearby campground, Oltrogge said. The National Guard provided three Black Hawk helicopters and the Arizona Department of Public Safety is dedicating all four of its helicopters to the rescue efforts, Oltrogge said. (The National Park Service also used their helicopter during the rescue.)

Evacuees were being taken to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Supai, Oltrogge said. The shelter is located at the Hualapai Tribal gym off Diamond Creek Road in Peach Springs. The shelter will provide an array of support services, including meals, a safe sleeping place and counseling, said Tracey Kiest of the Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross.

Oltrogge said 16 people were left stranded Saturday night on a ledge where Havasu Creek and the Colorado River join after flood waters carried their raft away. Each person was being flown one at a time to the other side of the Colorado River where they will board a helicopter and be flown to the Hualapai Hilltop. Those evacuees will also be transported to the American Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs.

Officers, sheriff’s deputies and rescuers from eight public safety agencies are working to coordinate the evacuation in Supai Canyon, said Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil. National Park Service employees are trying to contact members of rafting parties who have not yet reached the confluence, which is located at about river mile 157, in an effort to inform them of the flooding that has occurred in that area, Pribil said.

West-central Coconino County had been under a flash flood warning early Sunday. Supai police reported foot bridges and hiking trails were washed out and trees uprooted.

The threat of severe storms continued to plague central Coconino County Sunday afternoon, meteorologists said.

In the above photo released by the the National Park Service (NPS), a stranded rafter is lowered to shore by an NPS employee after being short hauled across the Colorado River Sunday Aug. 17, 2008 in the Grand Canyon.

Supai Village, file photo

Courtesy of KMBC

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