Heavy rains triggered flash flooding in Death Valley National Park on Friday, inundating cars, forcing 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 of rain in the Furnace Creek area, which park officials said in a statement represented “almost an entire year’s worth of rain in one morning.” The park’s average annual rainfall is 1.9 inches.
About 60 cars were buried in the rubble, and about 500 tourists and 500 park staff were trapped, park officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries, and Caltrans estimated it would take four to six hours to open a road that would allow park visitors to leave.
This is the second major flooding event at the park this week. Some roads were closed Monday as floodwaters inundated mud and debris in western Nevada and northern Arizona.
John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona expedition company, said he was sitting on a boulder on a hillside as the rain began to rain around 2 a.m. to witness the flooding, and he was trying to take pictures of the lightning as the storm approached. .
“It’s more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Serling, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, and has been visiting the park since 2016. He’s the lead tour guide for Incredible Weather Adventures and says he started chasing storms and the high plateaus of the 1990s in Minnesota.
“I’ve never seen whole trees and boulders washed away,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain is unbelievable.”
“A lot of water was a few feet deep. There was maybe 3 or 4 feet of rock covering the road,” he said.
Serling said it took him about six hours to drive about 35 miles out of the park from near the Death Valley hotel.
“At least two dozen cars were smashed and stuck inside,” he said, adding he didn’t see anyone injured “or any high-water rescues.”
During Friday’s heavy rain, “flooding pushed dumpsters into parked cars, causing them to collide with each other. Additionally, many facilities, including hotel rooms and business offices, were flooded,” the park statement said.
The water system that supplies water to park residents and offices also failed after a line that was being repaired broke, the statement said.
The National Weather Service said the flash flood warning for the park and surrounding area expired at 12:45 p.m. Friday, but the flood warning continued into the evening.