February 21, 2024

Hundreds of hotel guests were trapped flash floods in Death Valley National Park were able to get out after crews cleared a path through rocks and mud, but roads damaged by flooding or choked by debris are expected to remain closed into next week, officials said Saturday.

The National Park Service said Navy and California Highway Patrol helicopters conducted aerial searches of remote areas for stalled vehicles, but found none. But it could take days to assess the damage — the park near the California-Nevada state line has more than 1,000 miles of road on 3.4 million acres.

No injuries were reported from Friday’s record-breaking rainfall. The park topped 1.46 inches of rain in the Furnace Creek area. That’s about 75% of what the region usually gets in a year, and more than ever recorded for the entire month of August.

In this photo provided by the National Park Service, cars are stuck in mud and flood debris at The Inn at Death Valley in Death Valley National Park, California, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Heavy rains caused flash flooding that closed several roads in Death Valley National Park on Friday near the California-Nevada line. The National Weather Service said all roads in the park were closed after 1 to 2 inches of rain fell in a short period of time.

National Park Service via AP

Since 1936, the only day with more rain was April 15, 1988, when 1.47 inches fell, park officials said.

Nikki Jones, a restaurant worker who lives in a hotel with co-workers, said it was raining when she left for breakfast on Friday morning. By the time he returned, the rapidly gathering water had reached the door of the room.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Jones said. “I had never seen the water rise so fast in my life.”

Fearing that water would enter their ground-floor room, Jones and her friends put their luggage on the beds and used towels at the bottom of the doors to block the flow of water. For about two hours, they wondered if they would be flooded.

“People around me were saying they’d never seen anything this bad – and they’d been working here for a while,” Jones said.

While their room was spared, five or six other rooms in the hotel were flooded. The carpet from these rooms was later torn up.

Most of the rain — just over an inch — came in an epic downpour between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Friday, said John Adair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

The flooding “cut off access to and from Death Valley, just washing out roads and creating a lot of debris,” Adair said.

Highway 190 — a major artery that runs through the park — is expected to reopen between Furnace Creek and Pahrump, Nev., by Tuesday, officials said.

Flash floods leave hundreds stranded in Death Valley National Park
Flooding damaged a road in Death Valley National Park, located on the California-Nevada border. August 5, 2022.

National Park Service

Park employees, also stranded on the road closures, continued to be sheltered in place except for emergencies, officials said.

“Whole trees and boulders were washed away,” 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.

“The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain was just incredible,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

In most areas the water has receded, leaving behind a thick layer of mud and gravel. About 60 vehicles were partially buried in mud and debris. There were numerous reports of road damage and residential water lines in the Cow Creek area of ​​the park broke in several locations. About 20 palm trees fell on the road near an inn, while some staff residences were also damaged.

“With the severity and widespread nature of this rainfall it will take time to rebuild and reopen everything,” park superintendent Mike Reynolds said in a statement.

The storm followed major flooding earlier this week in the park 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Some roads were closed Monday after being swamped by mud and debris from flooding that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona.

Friday’s rain started around 2 a.m., according to Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, and has been visiting the park since 2016.

“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Sirlin, the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures who began chasing storms in Minnesota and the high plains in the 1990s.

“A lot of washes were flowing several feet deep. There are rocks probably 3 or 4 feet covering the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, heavy rain also drenched Las Vegas, where water spilling on casino ceilings.

Several other national parks have experienced severe flooding this summer. In June, Yellowstone saw historical flood levels which washed away many of the park’s roads and forced tourists to evacuate. Some of the roads remain closed for repairs.

The National Park Service said most of its properties and surrounding towns have been affected by climate change — from sea-level rise in Florida’s Everglades to Drought fires in Yosemite, California.

Somewhere else, parts of Kentucky were affected by flooding at the end of July. At least 35 people lost their lives and hundreds lost their homes.

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