9 dead, boy missing in flash flood in Arizona swim hole

Muddy floodwaters of the East Verde River flow under a bridge were at least one victim of a flash flood was found during a search and rescue operation by the Gila County Sheriff's Office on Sunday, July 16, 2017, in Payson, Arizona. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
Updated 17 July 2017
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9 dead, boy missing in flash flood in Arizona swim hole

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, Arizona: Nine people died and a 13-year-old boy was missing Sunday after their group of family and friends was swept away while cooling off in a creek that suddenly turned treacherous when a rainstorm upstream unleashed floodwaters in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.
Gila County Sheriff’s Detective David Hornung told The Associated Press that the group from the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas had met up for a daytrip along the popular Cold Springs swimming hole near Payson in central Arizona and were playing in the water Saturday afternoon when muddy flood waters came roaring down the canyon.
The group, ranging in age from 2 to 60, had set out chairs to lounge on a warm summer day when miles upstream an intense thunderstorm dumped heavy rainfall on the mountain.
Disa Alexander was hiking to the swimming area where Ellison Creek and East Verde River converge when the water suddenly surged. She was still about two miles away when she spotted a man holding a baby and clinging to a tree. His wife was nearby, also in a tree. Had they been swept downstream, they would have been sent over a 20-foot waterfall, Alexander said.
Alexander and others tried to reach them but couldn’t. Rescuers arrived a short time later.
“We were kinda looking at the water; it was really brown,” she said. “Literally 20 seconds later you just see like hundreds of gallons of water smacking down and debris and trees getting pulled in. It looked like a really big mudslide.”
Video she posted to social media showed torrents of water surging through jagged canyons carved in Arizona’s signature red rock.
“I could have just died!” Alexander exclaimed on the video, which shows the people in the tree and then rescuers arriving on the scene. A boy Alexander described as the couple’s son was on the rocks above the water.
Search and rescue crews, including 40 people on foot and others in a helicopter, recovered the bodies of five children and four adults, some as far as two miles down the river. Authorities did not identify them. Four others were rescued Saturday and taken to Banner hospital in nearby Payson for treatment of hypothermia.
Rescuers got to the four victims quickly after the crew heard their cries while they were nearby helping an injured hiker.
Daniel Bustamante, 16, sat on a bench with his friend Daniel Rodriguez outside the local mortuary in Payson where victims were brought. He said he came from Phoenix after getting a Snapchat message from a friend.
The flash-flooding hit Saturday afternoon at Cold Springs canyon, about 100 miles northeast of Phoenix, a popular recreation area reached by relatively easy hiking paths. Some know it was as Ellison Creek or Water Wheel swimming holes.
Hornung said the treacherously swift waters gushed for about 10 minutes before receding in the narrow canyon. He estimated floodwaters reached six feet high and 40 feet wide.
The National Weather Service, which had issued a flash-flood warning, estimated up to 1.5 inches of rain fell over the area in an hour. The thunderstorm hit about 8 miles upstream along Ellison Creek, which quickly flooded the narrow canyon where the swimmers were.
“They had no warning. They heard a roar, and it was on top of them,” Water Wheel Fire and Medical District Fire Chief Ron Sattelmaier said.
There were no notices or warnings at the trailhead, Alexander said.
There had been thunderstorms throughout the area, but it wasn’t raining where the swimmers were at the time.
While Arizona is known for its dryness, it gets bursts of heavy rains during the summer monsoon season.
“I wish there was a way from keeping people from getting in there during monsoon season, ” Sattelmaier said “It happens every year. We’ve just been lucky something like this hasn’t been this tragic.”
Hornung said there was no way to notify people of the flash-flood warning because cell service is limited and there are no officials stationed in the area. Visitors are reminded to be vigilant about the weather, he said.
Crowds looking to beat the Phoenix metro area’s heat headed to the small creeks that flow out of the mountains forming swimming holes and a series of small waterfalls. Some barbecue along the water’s edge, while others cliff jump into the deeper pools. Farther up the canyon narrows and becomes rockier, its walls steeper.
The flooding came after a severe thunderstorm pounded down on a nearby remote area that had been burned by a recent wildfire, Sattelmaier said. The “burn scar” was one of the reasons the weather service issued the flash-flood warning.
“If it’s an intense burn, it creates a glaze on the surface that just repels water,” said Darren McCollum, a meteorologist. “We had some concerns. We got a lot worse news.”
Sudden flooding in canyons has been deadly before. In 2015, seven people were killed in Utah’s Zion National Park when they were trapped during a flash flood while hiking in a popular canyon that was as narrow as a window in some spots and several hundred feet deep.
In 1997, 11 hikers were killed near Page, Arizona, after a wall of water from a rainstorm miles upstream tore through a narrow, twisting series of corkscrew-curved walls on Navajo land known as Lower Antelope Canyon.
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Ho reported from Las Vegas. Alina Hartounian in Phoenix and Mike Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed.


Trump to honor Macron, his unlikely French friend

Updated 16 min 21 sec ago
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Trump to honor Macron, his unlikely French friend

PARIS: They talk regularly, have shared memorable handshakes and supposedly have an “unbreakable” friendship. When US President Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron meet next week, there will be more back-slapping — but also major differences.
The Trump-Macron relationship has been one of the few stable elements in recent American foreign policy, with the French leader emerging as the privileged European partner for the White House.
While Trump’s relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel have often been tetchy and he has clashed publicly with British Prime Minister Theresa May, the mercurial US leader has been consistently friendly with France’s 40-year-old centrist.
Their warm ties will be on display from Monday when Macron becomes the first foreign visitor during Trump’s term to be honored with a state visit, nine months after Trump was guest of honor during France’s national day on July 14 last year.
“The visit comes at a time of extremely close relations between France and the United States with regular and intense exchanges between the two presidents,” an aide to Macron told reporters this week.
The aim of the trip is to “continue and reinforce this dynamic,” he added.
Although their political background, age and personal lives are sharply different, the two men have bonded over their role as outsiders who outwitted their established political rivals to gain power.
“The friendship between our two nations and ourselves is unbreakable,” Trump told Macron during his trip to Paris last July, which ended with their famous 25-second-long handshake.
They have since worked closely on the fight against the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria and coordinated Western strikes on Syrian regime chemical weapons installations last weekend.
But though they have found common ground on military matters, the list of subjects where they do not see eye-to-eye is long — from climate change and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to the role of the European Union and trade.
Furthermore, Macron never misses an opportunity to condemn the forces of right-wing nationalism and populism — which brought Trump to power — and did so again last week during a speech to the European Parliament.
“Everybody has been asking the same question: why is Macron getting along with Trump?” said Celin Belin, a former French diplomat working as a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington.
“The question is also why does Trump like Macron? I think he enjoys the respect Macron provides and he respects Macron’s power.”
Belin believes Trump has also deliberately picked a favorite in the European Union “and he has picked France because it’s strong militarily and not an economic threat, which is the opposite of Germany.”
French diplomats privately concede that the main question for Macron is whether his proximity to the US unilateralist will lead to results, either in convincing the United States to take into account its EU allies or mitigating the fallout from Trump’s decisions.
During the trip to Washington, Macron will have repeated opportunities to try to influence his American partner starting with a dinner at Mount Vernon, the home of the first US president George Washington, along with their wives Brigitte and Melania on Monday night.
Macron will also visit the State Department, take part in a state dinner at the White House and demonstrate his English-language skills — a rarity for a French president — in an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
Topping the agenda will be the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump is threatening to pull out of against the wishes of European nations, and US trade tariffs on steel and aluminum which could hit EU exports.
Trump is set to announce a final decision on the Iran deal and whether to prolong an exemption on EU metals imports in the first few weeks of May.
“We hope that the visit will be useful in convincing and in advancing things in the right direction,” Macron’s adviser said on condition of anonymity, but he warned: “You shouldn’t expect a diplomatic breakthrough.”
Other issues set to be discussed include US talks with North Korea and relations with Russia following the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian civil war.