Flooding caused by Friday’s heavy rains buried cars in Death Valley National Park, forcing officials to close all roads in and out of the park and leaving nearly 1,000 people stranded, officials said.
The park, near the California-Nevada state line, received at least 1.7 inches (4.3 centimeters) of rain in the Furnace Creek area, which park officials said in a statement represented “an entire year’s worth of rain in one morning.” Average annual precipitation for the park is 1.9 inches (4.8 centimeters).
About 60 vehicles were buried in the debris and about 500 visitors and 500 park workers were trapped, park officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries and the California Department of Transportation estimated it would take four to six hours to reopen the road allowing park visitors to leave.
This is the second major flood incident in the park this week. Some roads were closed Monday after flash floods that hit western Nevada and northern Arizona inundated with mud and debris.
It started raining around 2 a.m. Arizona-based adventure company photographer John Sarlin watched the flood as he sat on a hillside trying to take pictures of lightning as the storm approached.
“It’s more extreme than anything I’ve ever seen out there,” said Sarlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, and has been visiting the park since 2016. He is the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures and said he started chasing storms in Minnesota. and high plains in the 1990s.
“I’ve never seen it to the point where whole trees and rocks were washed away. The sound of some rocks coming down the mountain was unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
“Several streams were flowing several feet deep. Maybe 3 or 4 feet of rocks covered the road,” he said.
Sarlin said it took him about 6 hours to drive the 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the inn in Death Valley to the park.
“At least two dozen cars were crushed and stuck in it,” he said, adding that he did not see anyone injured “or any high water rescue.”
During Friday’s storms, “floodwater pushed dumpster containers into parked cars, causing cars to collide with each other. Additionally, many facilities, including hotel rooms and business offices, were flooded,” the park statement said.
The statement said the water system that supplies park residents and offices failed after a line that was being repaired broke.
A flash flood warning for the park and surrounding area ended at 12:45 p.m. Friday, but a flood advisory remained in effect through the evening, the National Weather Service said.