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Flash flood in Utah slot canyon kills girl, 7, and her sister, 3

by Susanne Urquhart (2020-07-03)


A seven-year-old girl and her three-year-old sister have died after a flash flood sent torrents of water into a narrow canyon in the Utah desert on Monday afternoon.  

Video shows the moment rainfall from a nearby thunderstorm began filling up Little Wildhorse Canyon, where the curving sandstone walls are so narrow at points that hikers must turn sideways to walk through. 

At least 21 people escaped the flooding while the two little girls, whose names were not immediately released, were left unaccounted for.  

The Emery County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday confirmed that the 12-year-old girl's body had been found. 

A crew of 67 search and rescue personnel were left combing the area for the three-year-old with the help of three helicopters. Her body was found this evening.

A piece clothing believed to belong to the toddler was found in a wash miles away from the canyon, which sits about 200 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Authorities said they believe some hikers are still unaccounted for as several cars remained parked at trailheads in the area after nightfall. 




























A seven-year-old girl and her three-year-old sister have died after flash flooding sent torrents of water into Little Wildhorse Canyon in the Utah desert on Monday. Video shows the moment rainfall from a nearby thunderstorm began filling up the canyon







A crew of 67 search and rescue personnel from multiple Utah agencies are still combing the area for the three-year-old with the help of three helicopters







Little Wildhorse Canyon is located about 200 miles south of Salt Lake City. Monday's flooding was caused by a thunderstorm that passed through nearby Goblin Valley State Park


The devastating flooding hit after an isolated thunderstorm storm crossed nearby Goblin Valley State Park, known for its otherworldly natural formations.

Little Wildhorse Canyon is considered a popular, family-friendly trail that displays awe-inspiring colorful stone walls, but flash flooding is a risk in its narrow formations known as slot canyons.

Deseret rains can be dangerous because the hard earth doesn't soak up much water. Instead, the rain collects quickly, often filling narrow slot canyons like a bathtub. 

The tall, undulating walls have few exits for any hikers inside when the weather hits, quickly turning a casual hike into a dangerous situation.








The curving sandstone walls at Little Wildhorse Canyon are so narrow at points that hikers must turn sideways to walk through (file photo)







Authorities said they believe some hikers are still unaccounted for as several cars remained parked at trailheads in the area after nightfall. Search teams are pictured on Tuesday





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Tom McGowan, a student at the University of Utah, filmed footage of Monday's flood and shared it on Twitter. 

He said he, his wife Taylor, their dog and a friend were in the slot canyons when they heard thunder in the distance and immediately sought safer ground. 

'After we found a high, sheltered spot, all hell broke lose,' Tom wrote. 

'Heavy rain turned into the heaviest nickel-sized hail I've ever seen. After several minutes, we noticed a debris flow coming down Bell's Canyon. Within seconds it was a violent 3 to 4-ft deep river. Scary stuff.






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'After an hour or so, the water receded enough and we began to head out. 

'We ran into search and recuse and learned that people we had passed minutes before taking shelter were taken downstream. Unfortunately one of them passed away. As of 8PM, others were still missing.

'It only took about 15 min for the rain to produce a raging river. Heavy rain/hail in slot canyons is extremely dangerous.'  

Taylor Gowan shared a video of the couple's hike taken an hour before the rain struck.
















Hiker Taylor McGowan shared a video of her, her husband and her dog in the canyon an hour before the flooding struck, filling it up with a river of water four feet-high within minutes




For reference, this is what conditions were like when we started the hike. We are all meteorologists and checked the weather constantly before we left. A "slight chance" of rain was forecasted. pic.twitter.com/Cwkivo5LwF

— Taylor Gowan (@tayloragowan) May 12, 2020

Another hiker, Eugene Smuts, also posted a video of the flash flood. He said he, his companion Kristy and their dog Stella sought higher ground and watched the water rush in. 

'We were pinned there just above narrow slots in awe and fear as the bone dry creek bed quickly rose with swiftly moving muddy water,' Smuts wrote on Facebook. 

'The canyon walls became waterfalls, large hail stones accumulated and rocks were crashing down. 

'After nearly an hour and surprisingly long after the rain had stopped, we determined the water level had receded enough to safely scramble through the slots below. In the following 1.5 mile of narrows we tried to boulder high on the steep walls, but were forced down to the raging creek with waist deep waters that Stella had to swim through.'  


















Eugene Smuts shared a video of Monday's flash flood on Facebook







Smuts said he, his companion Kristy and their dog Stella were in the canyon slots when they saw a storm warning. They immediately sought higher ground and watched the water flood in


The ongoing search for hikers caught in the flood is being conducted by officials from the Emery, Grand, Wayne and Sevier counties, the Utah Highway Patrol, the Bureau Land Management, Utah State Parks and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 

Classic Air provided two helicopters and the Department of Public Safety provided a third. 






Emery County Sheriff's Office


 The Emery County Sheriff's Office provided an update on the search in a Facebook post before the three-year-old's body was found.

 'It is with great sadness that ECSO confirms that the deceased victim of yesterday's flash flood in Little Wildhorse Canyon is a 7-year-old Utah girl,' the post reads.

'The search continues today for her missing 3-year-old sister. Crews searched until late last night and resumed this morning. A piece of clothing believed to belong to the missing 3-year-old was found last night approximately 7 miles down a wash from the staging area. 

'There are 67 personnel searching for the missing girl this morning. It is believed that everyone else is accounted for. 

'ECSO expresses our deepest sympathy to the family that has suffered this tragic loss. We also express gratitude to all who are assisting in this search. We will update as information becomes available.' 






Little Wildhorse Canyon is a popular, family-friendly trail that displays awe-inspiring colorful stone walls, 토렌트 추천 but flash flooding is a risk in its narrow formations called slot canyons (file photo)


The National Weather Service office in Salt Lake City issued a storm warning for the area surrounding Little Wildhorse Canyon at around 1pm. 

Twenty minutes later it warned that the storm was expected to produce  nickel-sized hail and strong winds.

Hikers in canyon slots are warned to be on high alert for possible storms when they explore canyon slots, given how quickly the channels can fill up with water.  

'They're extraordinary events, just so much water being shoved through the desert all at once, picking up everything, picking up trees and boulders,' Craig Childs, author of The Desert Cries, a book about flooding in the desert, told NPR. 

'You just want to be in the right place, not in the wrong place.' 

This isn't the first time that a flash flood has claimed the lives of hikers visiting Utah's slot canyons. 

In 2015, seven hikers died when a storm sent water rushing into a slot canyon in southern Utah's Zion National Park. 

Flood waters also killed a dozen people in a polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border that year.