Flash flooding in Death Valley National Park closed all roads into the park on Friday, burying cars and stranding about 1,000 people.
A deluge brought “almost a year’s worth of rain in one morning” to the famously hot and dry park in the California desert. At least 4.3 inches of rain fell in the Furnace Creek area; the park’s average annual rainfall is 4.8cm.
About 60 vehicles were buried under rubble and about 500 visitors and 500 park employees were stranded, park officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries, and the California transportation department estimated it would take four to six hours to clear a road that would allow visitors to leave 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 for an Arizona adventure company who witnessed the flooding while perched on a boulder on a hill trying to take pictures of lightning as the storm approached. .
Video and photos posted by Sirlin on social media showed rushing water, fallen palm trees and cars trapped by debris.
“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 is the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures and said he started chasing storms in Minnesota and the highlands in the 1990s.
“I’ve never seen it so bad that entire trees and boulders were washed away. The sound of some of the rocks coming off the mountain was just incredible,” he said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon.
“Many washes were meters deep. There are probably 3 or 4 foot rocks covering the road,” he said.
Sirlin said it took him about 6 hours to drive about 35 miles out of the park from the Inn at Death Valley.
“There were at least two dozen cars that were vandalized and got stuck in them,” he said, adding that he saw no one injured “or high-water rescues.”
During Friday’s showers, the “flood waters pushed dumpsters into parked cars, causing cars to collide. In addition, many facilities are under water, including hotel rooms and corporate offices,” the park statement said.
A water system that supplies it to park residents and offices also failed after a line broke that was being repaired, the statement said.
A flood warning remained in effect into the evening, the National Weather Service said.
Associated Press contributed to reporting