Las Vegas Sun

August 30, 2014

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Two killed as flood forces Death Valley closure

SUN STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. -- A fierce storm triggered flooding that killed at least two people, forcing the closure of Death Valley National Park.

More than 200 campers and visitors were evacuated from the park Monday after roads, water lines, sewer pipes and power lines were severed.

The intense thunderstorm struck about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, closing roads, stranding vehicles and knocking out power and water.

A day later, the bodies of two people remained in a vehicle stuck in mud, rock and debris, officials said.

"There was so much mud and debris in their car, we couldn't remove the bodies," park spokeswoman Roxanne Dey said.

California Highway Patrol and National Park Service helicopters spotted at least eight other vehicles off highways and dirt roads. Officials said they could not immediately tell if they were occupied.

"We're trying to account for all the visitors who were here," Death Valley Superintendent J.T. Reynolds told the Associated Press on Monday, using one of two telephone lines restored at the park office. Power was restored in the park by 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Late Monday night Dey said all of the visitors had been accounted for and evacuated.

Reynolds went outside of his office to watch the thunderstorm when another ranger described "a wall of water" pouring down Furnace Creek Wash.

Visitors to the 200-room Furnace Creek Ranch and 20 people staying at a nearby campground were escorted by state police out of the park, Reynolds said.

He said rangers weren't sure if backcountry campers or hikers might have been caught in the flooding. A Park Service plane flew over the park Tuesday afternoon to ensure those in remote areas were safe.

Reynolds said water and sewer lines were severed, and the park would be closed at least two days and possibly through the weekend. The last time the park closed that long was in 1985, he said.

California Highway 190, which runs from the Sierra Nevada through Death Valley, was closed for 130 miles, to near the Nevada state line. Another highway was closed to Shoshone, Calif., between Death Valley and Pahrump Valley.

The 3.4 million-acre park is the largest national park outside Alaska.

Normally Death Valley National Park receives 2 inches of rainfall in an average year. Sunday night the Park Service weather station collected 0.33 of an inch of rain in less than half an hour.

Sun reporter Mary Manning contributed to this story.

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