LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hundreds of hotel guests trapped by flash flooding in Death Valley National Park were able to get out after crews cleared a path through rocks and mud, but flood-damaged roads or clogged with debris to remain closed for the 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 found none. It could take days to assess the damage, though: The park near the California-Nevada border has more than 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) of road on 3.4 million acres (1.3 million hectares).
No injuries were reported from Friday’s 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 typically receives in a year, and more than has been recorded for the entire month of August.
Since 1936, the only day with the most rain was April 15, 1988, when 3.73 centimeters (1.47 inches) fell, park officials said.
Nikki Jones, a restaurant worker who lives in a hotel with her co-workers, said it was raining when she went out for breakfast Friday morning. When she returned, the rapidly accumulating water had reached the door of the room.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Jones said. “I had never seen water rise so fast in my life.”
Fearing water would get into their downstairs bedroom, Jones and his friends put their luggage on the beds and used towels at the bottom of the doors to keep the water out. For about two hours, they wondered if they would flood.
“People around me were saying they’ve never seen anything this bad before, and they’ve worked here for a while,” Jones said.
Although his room was saved, five or six other rooms in the hotel were flooded. The carpet in those rooms was later ripped out.
Highway 190, a major arterial through the park, is expected to reopen between Furnace Creek and Pahrump, Nevada, by Tuesday, officials said.
Park employees who were also stranded by the closed roads continued to shelter in place except in emergencies, officials said.
“Whole trees and rocks were collapsing,” said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company who witnessed the flooding while sitting on a rock on the side of a hill, where he was trying to take pictures of lightning flashes. as the storm approached.
“The noise of 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 thick layer of mud and gravel. About 60 vehicles were partially buried in mud and debris. There were numerous reports of road damage, and residential water lines in the Cow Creek area of the park were broken in several places. Around 20 palm trees fell onto the road near an inn and some staff residences were also damaged.
“With the severity and widespread nature of this rain, 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 (193 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas. Some highways were closed Monday after they were inundated with mud and debris from flash flooding that also affected western Nevada and northern Arizona.
Friday’s rain began 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 out 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 probably 3 or 4 foot rocks covering the trail,” she said.
Billeaud reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, and AP Radio correspondent Julie Walker in New York contributed.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION