Two vehicles carrying women and children from a park were washed away by a flash flood barreling down a canyon near the Utah-Arizona border, leaving 12 people dead and one person missing, officials said Tuesday.
It was not the only deadly incident attributable to the fast-moving water. In Zion National Park's Keyhole Canyon, four people who were canyoneering were killed and three are missing, National Park Service officials said.
At least six children and three women died in the vehicles that were swept away in the border area, according to Utah officials in the city of Hildale and with Washington County Emergency Services.
Three people survived Monday's flood, including a boy who was found walking around a creek, said Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow.
Two survived by escaping from their vehicle, he said. The youngest fatality was a child about age 4, said Hildale Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Barlow.
The two vehicles carried a total of 16 women and children after a visit to a park, the mayor said.
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.
One vehicle stopped Monday afternoon at the flooded Short Creek, whose high water prevented any crossing. Some occupants exited the vehicle to watch the flood, the mayor said.
At that moment, "a huge flow of debris and water" came from the canyon behind them, the mayor said.
"It came onto the street behind them and washed them into the ravine, and the dropoff there is 20, 30 feet. So the witnesses say the vehicles were just gone," the mayor said.
The rush of water was so intense it washed the two vehicles hundreds of yards downstream, and one vehicle was found a quarter mile away, in the creek, the mayor added.
The flooding ravaged an area that straddles the border from Hildale to Colorado City, Arizona.
The flash flood started with heavy rains in the canyons above Hildale, the assistant fire chief said.
"Most of the people were thrown from the vehicles," the fire official 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."