HILDALE –– Nine people died and four others are missing after a flash flood washed away vehicles at the Utah-Arizona border, Hildale, Utah officials said.
The victims are six children and three adults, including mothers, according to Hildale’s Mayor Philip Barlow and Hildale Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Barlow.
The youngest child was about four, Kevin Barlow said.
Three people survived the flash flood, the mayor said.
The flooding ravaged an area that straddles the border from Hildale to Colorado City, Arizona.
Most in the community are members of the Warren Jeffs polygamist sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS.
The flash flood started with heavy rains yesterday evening in the canyons above Hildale, the assistant fire chief said. The rush of water was so intense it washed two vehicles hundreds of yards downstream.
In one of the vehicles, a family stopped to watch the water when a surge caught the occupants by surprise and washed their van away, officials told CNN affiliate KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City.
The two vehicles were carrying 16 people, the fire official said.
“Most of the people were thrown from the vehicles,” he said.
Chris Wyler said rain and hail walloped Hildale within minutes, then quickly subsided.
“It happened within like a half-hour, 45 minutes,” he said. “[Then] it was just gone. And then the sun was shining again.”
By late yesterday, he said, the water had mostly receded. Nearby residents were trying to organize volunteers on social media to help search for the missing.
A flash flood warning remained in effect for Short Creek, Hildale and the surrounding region of south-east Washington County, Utah, until noon (2 p.m. ET), the National Weather Service said.
Additional thunderstorms were expected in the area this afternoon, the service added.
Utah’s Governor Gary R. Herbert said the state was offering “its full resources to the town of Hildale to aid with the search and rescue effort”.
“I am heartbroken to hear of the recent tragedy in Washington County,” the governor said.