The 1997 Flood of Havasu Creek!

August 12, 1997

 

 

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Associated Press
Flooding that forced the evacuation of about 300 people from an American Indian reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon began subsiding Monday, but the problems were far from over.

Water and sewer lines on the Havasupai Indian Reservation were pummeled by logs, boulders and other debris when floodwaters raged Sunday. There was no running water Monday, and helicopters were being used to get water to residents who refused to leave.


Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and tribal leaders were trying to assess the damage on the reservation. Some 300 people were taken by helicopter out of the canyon by Monday afternoon. Most were tourists who were hiking, camping and rafting near the popular Havasu Falls, which is famous for its turquoise-colored water.

Lester Crooke, Havasupai tribal chairman, said he saw the wall of water coming toward this village. "It was really rushing through, bringing all kinds of big rocks and logs and whatever it can carry," he said.
He said electricity, water, sewer and telephone service all went down. The only working communication the tribe had with officials outside the canyon was one fax line and shortwave radios.

The torrential rain dumped 3 to 4 inches on the area in just two hours. As the water from neighboring creeks converged onto Cataract Creek, Crooke said residents could see the flood coming.

He and other officials got into a chartered helicopter to warn people downstream, some of whom were swimming, because the water was clear and they had no indication that raging waters were coming. "It just happened so fast, we had to turn our alarms on so people would look and see the water coming," Crooke said.

He said several people were stranded on high ground and had to be rescued. Two people were caught in a tree about 8 feet off the ground and had to be thrown a rope from the helicopter. Two others were trapped in a cave at Havasu Falls.

Crooke could see a dozen kayaks and rafts flowing downstream with a variety of personal belongings. Only one minor injury was reported, a 2-year-old boy struck by a horse fleeing the rising water.

About 100 American Red Cross volunteers headed to Peach Springs to staff a shelter for residents forced out of their homes. Larry Agan, a Red Cross field supervisor, said about 75 residents were expected to spend the night at the shelter, while hundreds of others found refuge with friends and family.

Nearly everyone had to flee their homes with only the clothes they were wearing and a few small personal items, he said. "We're really not sure how long we're going to be here. I wouldn't want to even venture a guess. If I had to say, I would say at least three or four days," Agan said.

The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning Monday afternoon, and officials continued to eye the sky nervously.
Sunday's flash flood isn't the first to hit area. Over the years, several major floods have struck on Havasupai land.

Federal emergency aid is used to rebuild areas, but it cannot be used to correct problems, said Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent Bob McNichols, and the tribe does not have the money to make necessary changes. Even if it did, Crooke said it's unlikely the tribe would dam the water or alter its course.

"As indigenous people to the Grand Canyon, we like to leave things as nature. We don't like to build walls or anything," he said. Instead, the tribe will continue to rebuild after every flood, Crooke said.

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