Grand Canyon rescue as dam bursts

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The Independent US

Days of heavy rains around the Grand Canyon created flooding that breached an earthen dam Sunday and forced helicopters to pluck scores of residents and campers from the gorge. No injuries were immediately reported.

The weather and dam breach caused flooding in a side canyon containing Supai Village where about 400 members of the Havasupai native American tribe live, said Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff's Department.

Crews airlifted 170 people from the village and nearby campgrounds. There were no confirmed reports of damage in Supai, Blair said.

The dam breaching was only one factor in the flooding, Blair said. The dam isn't a "huge, significant" structure, he said.

A flash flood warning remained in effect, and search and rescue teams planned to stay in the village overnight as a precaution. Blair said authorities were still trying to contact some people known to be in the canyon, though the majority were accounted for.

Rescuers plan to return to the flooded area Monday to conduct further searches for people.

Even before the dam breach, heavy rainfall since Friday totaling as much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) caused flooding and problems in the area. Sixteen people in a boating party were stranded on a ledge at the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River on Saturday night after flood waters carried their rafts away, Oltrogge said.

The boaters were found uninjured and were rescued from the Grand Canyon, whose floor is unreachable in many places except by helicopter.

Evacuees were being flown to a parking area 8 miles from Supai and then, if needed, bused to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Supai, said Tracey Kiest, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. She said about 30 people were there as of Sunday night.

The area received 3 to 6 inches (7.62 to 15.24 centimeters) of rain Friday and Saturday and about 2 more inches (5.08 centimeters) on Sunday, said Daryl Onton, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Flagstaff, Arizona.

"That's all it took — just a few days of very heavy thunderstorms," he said.

Supai is about 75 miles west of the Grand Canyon Village, a popular tourist area on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Havasu Creek feeds the Colorado, which runs the length of the canyon.

The flooding came on a weekend during the busy summer tourist season, when thousands of visitors a day flock to the canyon for spectacular views, hikes or to raft its whitewater.

The Grand Canyon has been the traditional home of the Havasupai for centuries.