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California and the West

Searchers on Foot to Hunt Arizona Flood Victims

Disaster: Five migrant workers are unaccounted for, though no one has been reported missing.

October 25, 2000|From a Times Staff Writer

Authorities in western Arizona, unsure how many--if any--people were swept away in Sunday's flash floods, said Tuesday they would mount a foot search of a muddy wash on Thursday to look for possible victims.

After heavy rain runoff swept unexpectedly through the small farming community of Wenden, about 100 miles west of Phoenix, witnesses reported seeing two people caught in the torrent. Additionally, local employers said five migrant workers have not returned to work.

But La Paz County Sheriff's Deputy Karen Harris said nobody has come forward to report losing friends or relatives to the flood. Hampering the investigation, Harris speculated, is fear on the part of farm workers that they might be deported if they approached law enforcement officers.

The five missing workers might have left the area before Sunday's flash flood, or might have simply not returned to work for other reasons, she said.

Nonetheless, searchers in helicopters continued their efforts on Tuesday. Beginning Thursday, volunteers will walk a 20-mile stretch of the wash--a process that might take three or four days, she said.

"Even if we didn't have these five unaccounted people, we'd still search the wash," Harris said. "A lot of migrant workers were sleeping in the wash when the flood hit, and there's simply no way to account for them."

Scores of homes, mobile homes and other living quarters were damaged or destroyed by the runoff.

Residents "are digging out, trying to salvage what they can, determine what they need to put their homes back in order--or to bulldoze them and start all over," she said.

Children returned to school on Tuesday. Electricity had been restored to most of the town of 1,200 people, but gas service remained interrupted and residents were advised not to drink tap water.

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