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Dam fails, scores are evacuated

PHOENIX — Days of heavy rain around the Grand Canyon created flooding that caused an earthen dam to fail Sunday, and helicopters plucked scores of residents and campers from the gorge. No injuries were immediately reported.

The dam break caused flooding in a side canyon containing Supai village, where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live, said Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department.

Crews airlifted 170 people from the village and nearby campgrounds. Evacuees were bused to an American Red Cross center, officials said.

There were no confirmed reports of damage in Supai, which is on high ground, Blair said, and many residents and campers chose to stay.

“We’re not as concerned about it as we initially were,” he said, adding that the dam isn’t a “huge, significant” structure.

Still, a flash flood warning remained in effect, and search and rescue teams stayed in the village overnight.

They planned to return to the flooded area today to conduct further searches.

Blair said authorities were trying to contact some people known to be in the canyon, though the majority were accounted for.

Some hiking trails and footbridges were washed out after the dam breach about 45 miles upstream from Supai, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge.

Trees were uprooted, the National Weather Service said.

As much as 8 inches of rain since Friday caused trouble even before the dam burst. Sixteen people in a boating party were stranded on a ledge at the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River on Saturday night after floodwaters carried their rafts away, Oltrogge said.

The boaters were found uninjured and were rescued from the Grand Canyon, whose floor is unreachable in many places except by helicopter.

Rescuers tried to find visitors staying at the Supai Campground to escort them to safety, Oltrogge said.

Evacuees were flown to a parking area eight miles from Supai and bused to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Supai, said Red Cross spokeswoman Tracey Kiest.

The area got 3 to 6 inches of rain Friday and Saturday and about 2 more inches Sunday, said Daryl Onton, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Flagstaff.

“That’s all it took, just a few days of very heavy thunderstorms,” he said.

Supai is about 75 miles west of Grand Canyon Village, a tourist area on the South Rim.

Havasu Creek feeds the Colorado, which runs the length of the canyon.

The flooding came on a weekend during the busy summer tourist season, when thousands of visitors a day flock to the canyon for spectacular views, hikes or whitewater rafting.

The helicopters lifting people out were from the National Park Service, the National Guard and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Oltrogge said.

In 2001, flooding near Supai swept a 2-year-old boy and his parents to their deaths while they were hiking.

The Grand Canyon has been the traditional home of the Havasupai for centuries.

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