Flooding in Death Valley National Park caused by heavy rains on Friday buried cars, forced officials to close all roads in and out of the park and stranded about 1,000 people, officials said.
The park near the California-Nevada state line received at least 1.7 inches of rain in the Furnace Creek area, which park officials said in a statement represented “nearly an entire year’s worth of rain in one morning.” The park’s average annual rainfall is 1.9 inches.
About 60 vehicles were buried in the debris and about 500 visitors and 500 park workers were 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 clear a road that would allow park visitors to leave.
It was the second major flood event in the park this week. Some roads were closed Monday after being swamped by mud and debris from flooding that hit western Nevada and northern Arizona hard.
The rain started around 2 a.m., said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company, who saw the flooding as he climbed a hillside rock where he was trying to take photos of lightning as the storm approached.
“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, and has been visiting the park since 2016. He’s the lead 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 point where whole trees and boulders were washed away. The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain was just unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
“A lot of washes were flowing several feet deep. There are rocks probably 3 or 4 feet covering the road,” he said.
Sirlin said it took him about 6 hours to drive about 35 miles out of the park near the Inn at Death Valley.
“There were at least two dozen cars that crashed and got stuck in there,” he said, adding that he didn’t see anyone injured “or rescued in the water.”
During Friday’s downpours, “floodwater pushed trash cans into parked cars, causing the cars to collide with each other. In addition, many facilities are flooded, such as hotel rooms and business offices,” the park’s statement said.
A water system that supplies it to park residents and offices also failed after a broken line was being repaired, the statement said.
A flash flood warning for the park and surrounding area ended at 12:45 a.m. Friday, but the flash flood warning remained in effect into the evening, the National Weather Service said.