Campers Relate Arizona Canyon Rescue
Phoenix resident Joelle Hadley drifted off to sleep on Saturday night (Aug. 16) to the sound of a bubbling creek in a campground in Arizona’s Havasu Canyon and awoke a few hours later to a roaring river.
“We couldn’t see anything. We could just hear how strong the water was, it was shaking the canyon,” she said. “Everybody was shouting, ‘We’ve got to get to higher ground.’ ”
With the help of an experienced guide who happened to be camping at the popular site, Hadley and more than 100 other campers scrambled up to a Havasupai cemetery – sacred ground, she acknowledges, but safe – and they ultimately made their way to Supai, where Blackhawk helicopters from the Arizona National Guard began rescuing hikers and tribal members early Sunday, according to the Arizona Republic.
The canyon is near Peach Springs in the northwest portion of the state.
Hadley said there was another group of campers whose whereabouts were unknown.
“What we now know is they didn’t make it out and they were hanging in trees and on picnic tables,” she said. “They were there all night until the helicopters got them in the morning.”
Original reports Sunday attributed the flooding to a breached dam. That proved to be erroneous; an earthen water-storage tank on a private ranch did breach, but that had little, if any, effect on the flooding of the campground.
Meanwhile, authorities turned their attention to finding 11 hikers who were still unaccounted for Monday afternoon.
Using a combination of helicopters and boats, a team of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officers and members of the National Park Service were combing the canyon for signs of life following the flash flood that washed away a popular campground Sunday and led to the evacuation of more than 250 campers and Havasupai tribal members.
The 11 hikers either were swept downstream or simply left the area on Saturday evening and don’t know they’re considered to be missing, said Chris English, a BIA spokesman.
“They’re looking for people that may be up trees or on cliffs,” he said. “We still don’t have any reports of fatalities.”
The hikers registered with the tribe in Supai before starting their journey, and authorities were attempting to contact friends and relatives who might know the travel plans of the missing.
Members of the Havasupai Tribe, about 450 of whom live in Supai, knew trouble was brewing Saturday when the normally pristine water in Havasu Creek began to turn brown; dirt was running down the stream, a sure sign that a flood was coming. More than 6 inches of rain had fallen 20 to 40 miles upstream in the days before the flood, and longtime residents of the remote village have come to anticipate this kind of activity.
“That’s just life in Supai,” said Fernando Manakaja, one of the tribal members staying at an evacuation center in Peach Springs. “Nature takes its course. You have to accept it.”
Many members of the tribe did just that, and shrugged off the evacuation order that came Sunday. About 35 stayed at the evacuation center in Peach Springs on Sunday night, but many more stayed in hotels and with relatives in the area.
But the future of the picturesque campground is also of concern. The popular destination is a source of income for the tribe, and there was no timeline for when the area could or would reopen.
Evacuated residents were hoping to return to their town today, but no one from the coalition of agencies working on the disaster would estimate when the village could reopen to residents or visitors.