In light of our recent tragedy here in Tucson, please remember to be careful out there during the monsoon season.
One hiker is dead and a second is reported missing after a wall of water swept them away Saturday near Seven Falls in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.
The death is the second in a week in the Tucson area from flash flooding caused by monsoon rains.
More than 50 people — adults and children — were hiking in the area, about five miles northeast of the Sabino Canyon Visitors Center northeast of Tucson, when the water level began to rise around 2 p.m., authorities said.
Witnesses say a large wall of water came over the top of a waterfall and cascaded down to the flat areas, said Heidi Schewel, a Coronado National Forest spokeswoman.
All but four of 56 people stranded in the overall area were able to reach higher ground and stay out of the water, said Deputy Dawn Hanke, a Pima County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman.
Two of the four got out safely, Schewel said. Southern Arizona Rescue Association volunteers found a male hiker dead, but had not recovered his body late Saturday as they were waiting for the water to recede.
A female hiker reported missing had not been found. Information on the two was not available Saturday. Their ages were not known; it was unclear if they were in the area together.
Most survivors were flown out of Seven Falls in a helicopter, Schewel said. Some were walked out after climbing to higher elevations.
Liz Khoury, a 21-year-old University of Arizona student, and her friends had to climb up the side of the mountain to be rescued. They were halfway to Seven Falls when she saw a 15-foot wall of water coming, she said.
Kelly Taylor, 38, was also in the area and was stranded before being flown out. "We were just waiting for the water to go down so we could figure out what to do next," she said.
Two 15-year-old boys, Jacob Reyna and Austin Gutzwiller, said they waited about two hours before they could be flown out.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area was closed Saturday night, but will reopen this morning barring severe weather. It is not known if Bear Canyon and Seven Falls will be open because rescuers may still be conducting the search, Schewel said.
It was the first fatality she could recall from flooding in the Sabino Canyon area. "It is not uncommon for flooding to occur, and it is not uncommon for people to become stranded when the water rises, but I don't recall a fatality because of it . . . I don't know if there has ever been one," Schewel said.
She added that the Forest Service tries to warn people, especially during this time of year, that whenever there is significant rainfall in the mountains, it will come down and drain through some of the canyons, which can be hazardous.
The National Weather Service reported that upper portion of the Bear Canyon watershed — near Seven Falls — got 2 to 3 inches of rain.
Other damage from the monsoon Saturday included two rock slides that temporarily shut down the Mount Lemmon highway. No injuries were reported in the slides at mileposts 17.5 and 19.
Rose Canyon Campground on Mount Lemmon was closed Saturday due to damage from the storm, said John Able, Forest Service communications officer. The closure will last indefinitely due to "pretty significant damage to the road" into the area.
The National Weather Service said only 0.16 of an inch of rain was recorded Saturday on Mount Lemmon, but 1 1/2 inches were recorded on Catalina Highway just west of the Palisades Ranger Station. More than 2 inches of rain fell just southeast of Mount Lemmon.
Able, the Forest Service spokesman, drove up the Mount Lemmon highway Saturday and saw hard rains on the mountain and heavy flows in its creeks and washes. "Seven Cataracts was running like I'd never seen," Able said. "There was good flow in Bear Creek. There definitely was water coming down the mountain. The potential for flash floods in this country is always there."
On July 31, 2006, 11 trails in Sabino Canyon were damaged when unprecedented rainfall triggered floods and rock slides. Rains that saturated the lower slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains then created slides on cliffs that had held firm for thousands of years, said U.S. Geological Survey scientists.
Able, the Forest Service spokesman, said he doesn't know how authorities could tell at this point whether Saturday's runoff speeds or force were aggravated by last summer's damage, or by erosion caused by the massive 2003 Aspen Fire in the Summerhaven area on Mount Lemmon.
And Schewel said, "Before the fire and last year's activity, we have had this kind of flooding nearly every year."
In this summer's first monsoon death, Tucsonan Adalberto Padilla, 60, died Tuesday when his Ford SUV was swept away at the Rodeo Wash near Irvington Road on the city's South Side.