Tourists escape flooding in Death Valley;  the roads are closed for several days

Tourists escape flooding in Death Valley; the roads are closed for several days

Hundreds of hotel guests caught off guard flooding in Death Valley National Park were able to drive out after crews cleared a road through rocks and mud, but roads damaged by floodwaters or choked by debris were expected to remain closed into next week, officials said Saturday.

The National Park Service said Navy and California Highway Patrol helicopters have been conducting aerial searches of remote areas for stranded vehicles, but they have found none. However, it could take days to assess the damage — the park near the California-Nevada state line has over 1,000 miles of road over 3.4 million acres.

No injuries were reported from Friday’s record breaking event. The park managed 1.46 inches of rain in the Furnace Creek area. That’s about 75% of what the area usually gets in a year, and more than ever recorded for the entire month of August.

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In this photo provided by the National Park Service, cars are stuck in mud and debris from flooding at The Inn at Death Valley in Death Valley National Park, California, Friday, April 5. August 2022. Heavy rainfall triggered flooding that closed several roads in Death Valley National Park on Friday near the California-Nevada line. The National Weather Service reported that all park roads had been closed after 1 to 2 inches of rain fell in a short period of time.

National Park Service via AP


Since 1936, the only day with more rain was April 15, 1988, when 1.47 inches fell, park officials said.

Nikki Jones, a restaurant worker who lives in a hotel with other employees, said the rain was falling when she went to breakfast on Friday morning. When she returned, quickly collected water had reached the room’s doorway.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Jones said. “I had never seen water rise so fast in my entire life.”

Afraid of water entering their first-floor room, Jones and her friends placed their luggage on the beds and used towels at the bottom of the doorways to prevent the water from entering. For about two hours they wondered if they would be flooded.

“People around me said they’d never seen anything this bad before — and 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. The carpet from these rooms was later torn out.

Most of the rain — just over an inch — came in an epic downpour between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday, said John Adair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

The flooding “cut off access to and from Death Valley, just washed out roads and produced a lot of debris,” Adair said.

Highway 190 — a main artery through the park — is expected to reopen between Furnace Creek and Pahrump, Nev., by Tuesday, officials said.

Flooding leaves hundreds stranded in Death Valley National Park
Flooding damages a road in Death Valley National Park, which is located on the border between California and Nevada. 5 August 2022.

National Park Service


Park employees who were also stranded by the closed roads continued to shelter in place, except for emergencies, officials said.

“Whole trees and boulders were washed down,” said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona adventure company who witnessed the flooding as he sat on a hillside boulder trying to photograph the lightning as the storm approached.

“The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain was just unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

In most areas the water has receded, leaving behind a dense layer of mud and gravel. Around 60 vehicles were partially buried in mud and debris. There were many reports of road damage, and water lines in homes in the park’s Cow Creek area were broken in several places. Around 20 palm trees fell on the road near an inn, and some staff housing was also damaged.

“With the severity and widespread nature of this rainfall, it will take time to rebuild and reopen everything,” Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds said in a statement.

The storm followed major flooding earlier this week in the park 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Some roads were closed Monday after they were inundated with mud and debris from flooding that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona.

Friday’s rain started around 2 a.m., according to Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Ariz., and has been visiting the park since 2016.

“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Sirlin, the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures who began chasing storms in Minnesota and the High Plains in the 1990s.

“Many washes were flowing several feet deep. There are 3 or 4 foot rocks covering the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, the heavy rainfall also drenched Las Vegas, where water poured into the casino roofs.

Several other national parks have been exposed to major floods this summer. In June saw Yellowstone historical flood levels which washed away many of the park’s roads and forced tourists to evacuate. Some of the roads are still closed for repairs.

The National Park Service said most of the properties and surrounding towns have been affected by climate change — from rising sea levels in Florida’s Everglades to drought-driven fires in Yosemite, California.

Elsewhere, parts of Kentucky were affected by flooding at the end of July. At least 35 people died, and hundreds lost their homes.

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