LOS ANGELES (TAUT) – Hundreds of hotel guests trapped by flash flooding in Death Valley National Park were able to drive away after crews cleared a path through rocks and mud, but roads damaged by flooding or suffocated with debris were expected to remain closed into the following week , officials said Saturday.
The National Park Service said Navy and California Highway Patrol helicopters searched remote areas for stranded vehicles but found none. However, it could take days to assess the damage — the park near the California-Nevada state line has more than 1,609 miles of roadway across 3.4 million acres (1.3 million hectares).
No injuries were reported on Friday due to the record rains. The park withstood 1.46 inches (3.71 centimeters) of rain in the Furnace Creek area. That’s about 75% of what the area normally gets in a year, and more than ever for the entire month of August.
Since 1936, the only day with more rain was April 15, 1988, when 1.47 inches (3.73 centimeters) fell, park officials said.
Nikki Jones, a restaurant worker who lives in a hotel with colleagues, said it was raining when she left for breakfast Friday morning. By the time she returned, fast running water had reached the doorway of the room.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Jones said. “I had never seen water rise so quickly in my life.”
Fearing the water would enter their ground-floor room, Jones and her friends put their luggage on beds and used towels at the bottom of the doorways to keep water from flowing in. For about two hours they wondered if they would be submerged.
“People around me said they’ve never seen anything as bad as this — and that they’ve been working here for a while,” Jones said.
While their room was spared, five or six other rooms in the hotel were flooded. Carpet from those rooms was later ripped off.
Highway 190 — a major artery through the park — is expected to reopen Tuesday between Furnace Creek and Pahrump, Nevada, officials said.
Park workers who were also stranded by the closed roads remained in place, except for emergencies, officials said.
“Entire trees and boulders washed away,” said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona adventure company who witnessed the flooding while perched on a boulder on a hill, trying to snap pictures of lightning as the storm approached. .
“The sound of some rocks coming off the mountain was just incredible,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
In most areas the water has receded leaving a dense layer of mud and gravel. About 60 vehicles were partially buried in mud and debris. There were numerous reports of road damage and water pipes in the Cow Creek area of the park were broken in multiple locations. About 20 palm trees fell in the way of an inn and some staff houses were also damaged.
“With the severity and widespread nature of this rainfall, it will take time to rebuild and reopen,” park ranger Mike Reynolds said in a statement.
The storm followed major flooding earlier this week in the park 120 miles (193 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas. Some roads were closed Monday after being inundated with mud and debris from flash floods 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,” says Sirlin, the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures, which started chasing storms in Minnesota and the highlands in the 1990s.
“Many washes were meters deep. There are probably 3 or 4 foot rocks covering the road,” he said.
Billeaud reported from Phoenix. The AU Times writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, and TAUT Radio Correspondent Julie Walker in New York contributed.