Flash flooding in Death Valley National Park caused by heavy rain 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 (4.3 centimeters) of rain in the Furnace Creek area, which park officials said in a statement represented “almost an entire year of rain in one morning”. The average annual rainfall for the park is 4.8 centimeters (1.9 in).
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 open a road that would allow visitors to exit the park.
It was the second major flood in the park this week. Some roads were closed Monday after being inundated with mud and debris from flash floods that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona.
The rain started around 2 a.m., said John Sirlin, a photographer with an Arizona-based adventure company who witnessed the flooding while perched on a hillside rock trying to take photos of the lightning while the storm was approaching.
“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Ariz., and has been visiting the park since 2016. He is the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures and said he started to chase storms in Minnesota. and the high plains of the nineties.
“I’ve never seen it to the point where trees and whole boulders were being washed away. The noise of some of the rocks coming down the mountain was unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
“A lot of wash was flowing several feet deep. There’s probably 3- or 4-foot rocks covering the road,” he said.
Sirlin said it took him about 6 hours to drive about 35 miles (56 kilometers) outside the park from near the Inn in Death Valley.
“There were at least two dozen cars that were wrecked and trapped,” he said, adding that he didn’t see anyone injured “or any high water rescues.”
During Friday’s storms, “floodwaters pushed dumpster containers into parked cars, causing cars to crash into each other. In addition, many facilities are flooded, including hotel rooms and offices of business,” the park’s statement said.
A water system that provides water to residents and park offices also failed after a line that was being repaired broke, the release said.
A flash flood warning for the park and surrounding area expired at 12:45 a.m. Friday, but a flash flood warning remained in effect through the evening, the National Weather Service said.