VEYO, Washington County — Thirteen people were rescued from a slot canyon after a flood wiped out their campsite Saturday.
At about 1:40 a.m., police received a call from Las Vegas residents who were stuck on the north side, opposite the road exit, of the Santa Clara river in the area known as “crawdad canyon” due to around 3 inches of rain on Pine Valley Mountain flooding the location where they were camping, according to Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy and search and rescue liaison Darrell Cashin.
Three children, three teenagers and seven adults, ranging in age from 9-57, elected to set up their camp in a slot canyon with lava rock walls on both sides of them and one access point, Cashin said.
The group had crossed the river to get to the site while the river was low, but after rain, eventually totaling 8 inches in the channel, caused the adults to wake up, they were forced to find high ground, removing the children from the canyon first.
Because of the sheer, lava rock walls, water doesn't spread out so it funnels and runs very quickly. It can be very treacherous with trees and rocks.
–Darrell Cashin, Washington County Sheriff's Office deputy and search and rescue liaison
“Because of the sheer, lava rock walls, water doesn’t spread out so it funnels and runs very quickly,” Cashin said. “It can be very treacherous with trees and rocks.”
Everyone was able to get out of the way of the flood before it took out the group’s tents, washed away car keys and pushed a minivan into a rock, according to Cashin.
Deputies located the people and accounted for all 13 before a swift-water team combined with a high angle search and rescue squad tied ropes about 2-3 feet above the river and moved each of the campers, one by one, from youngest to oldest, across the river, Cashin said.
“It was kind of like a bucket brigade,” he said.
No one was injured, although a few of them were slightly hypothermic because of their cold and wet condition. Cashin said most of the individuals didn’t have any shoes, and some of them didn’t have any socks.
Deputies contacted the American Red Cross and shuttled the group to St. George. The American Red Cross provided the campers with hotel rooms, dry clothes, food and water, Cashin said.
The campers' tents were found wrapped around trees, and one picnic table was stuck 4 feet up in a tree, according to Cashin.
Cashin said the place the group chose to camp probably wasn’t the best, especially during monsoon season.
“When they put out a flash flood warning or even a watch, people need to not be complacent and take heed to that,” he said. “When you’re hiking or camping, don’t put yourself down in a slot canyon, don’t put yourself down in a low area.”
The campers were expecting more family to join them Saturday, which would’ve increased the group’s number to about 30, Cashin said.
Deputies and the teams on scene helped search for car keys, but the vehicles were left when the keys went unrecovered.
Cashin said he’s witnessed numerous floods like this one that have killed people. He said it’s a good reminder for people to use extreme caution.
“People think it’s not going to happen to them,” he said. “If you do find yourself stuck in a flash flood situation where you’re up on some high ground but kind of stuck there, do not try and cross that water, even if it looks OK.”
Search and rescue members tested to see how deep the water was and ran into a submerged tree. Cashin said due to the murky color of the water, what his crews call “the strainer” — anything water goes through that humans cannot travel through — can include hydraulics, foot entrapments and other types of obstructions.
“Stay on the high ground, call for help and just wait,” Cashin said. “Don’t try and cross it, don’t get in a big hurry. If you can’t get a cell signal out, at least wait until the water hits below your knees before you attempt to cross it.”