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Flooding spurs Grand Canyon rescues

August 18, 2008|From the Associated Press

PHOENIX — Days of heavy rains around the Grand Canyon created flooding that breached an earthen dam Sunday and forced helicopters to pluck scores of residents and campers from the gorge. No injuries were immediately reported.

The weather and dam breach caused flooding in Havasu Canyon, a branch containing a village where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live and where some of the evacuations occurred, said Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff's Department.

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

"We're not as concerned about it as we initially were," he said.

Still, a flash flood warning remained in effect, and search and rescue teams planned to stay in the village overnight as a precaution.

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.

About 150 people had fled by helicopter, and evacuations were to continue until dark for those who wanted to leave, Blair said.

The effort was initially intended to include about 200 campers and possibly 200 village residents, Blair said.

As much as 8 inches of rain since Friday caused trouble even before the dam was breached. A private boating party of 16 people was 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 uninjured boaters were rescued from the Grand Canyon, whose floor is unreachable in many places except by helicopter.

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

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