Health & Safety

July 19, 2012

Local incident Monday showcases monsoon’s danger

Scout Reports

On Monday, Cochise County sheriff’s deputies reported to a request for help from an injured man who knocked at a local resident’s door.

The man said he was with some friends at the lower Carr Canyon campground outside of Sierra Vista when he went into the stream with a female friend. A wall of water rushed down the stream, and they both went underwater while being pushed down the wash. The man did not know where the girl was or what happened to her.

Area search-and-rescue teams were led to two men who stated they were with the man and girl at the lower campground when flood waters crashed through. The men were able to cross one wash in their truck; however, they had to continue down the mountain on foot to get help.

The girl was spotted approximately 1/8 mile downstream from where she was caught in the flood waters. Swift water teams were not able to safely cross the water to get to her, so another team started further downstream and were able to walk her out to safety.

Medical personnel checked her condition and noted that she appeared to have a mild case of hypothermia and some cuts and abrasions. However, there were no serious injuries. The girl was released to her mother. The man was treated at a local hospital.

The United States National Weather Service advises people to “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” when faced with crossing areas which appear to be flooded. They recommend people leave a flash flood area rather than try to cross it.

Many people tend to underestimate the dangers of flash floods. What makes them dangerous is their sudden nature and fast-moving water.

A vehicle provides little to no protection against being swept away; it may make people overconfident and less likely to avoid the flash flood, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the Cochise County Sheriff Department. More than half of the fatalities attributed to flash floods are people swept away in vehicles when trying to cross flooded intersections. As little as two feet of water is enough to carry away most sport utility-sized vehicles.

The U.S. National Weather Service reported in 2005 that, using a national 30-year average, more people die yearly in floods, 127 on average, than by lightning (73) or tornadoes (16).

In deserts, flash floods can be particularly deadly for several reasons. First, storms in arid regions are infrequent, but they can deliver an enormous amount of water in a very short time. Second, these rains often fall on poorly-absorbent and often clay-like soil, which greatly increase the amount of runoff that rivers and other water channels must handle. These regions tend not to have the infrastructure needed to effectively divert water from structures and roads, such as storm drains, culverts and retention basins. This is either because of sparse population, poverty or because residents believe the risk by flash floods is not high enough to justify the expense, according to the news release.

In fact, in some areas, desert roads frequently cross dry river and creek beds without bridges. From the driver’s perspective, there may be clear weather, when unexpectedly a river forms ahead of or around the vehicle in a matter of seconds due to runoff from rain that has fallen up-stream.

Finally, the lack of regular rain to clear water channels may cause flash floods in deserts to be headed by large amounts of debris, such as rocks, branches and logs, all of which can cause serious injury for anyone unfortunate enough to be struck.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said Tuesday, “People don’t realize how fast and with what force water comes down washes and creek beds. Before you know it, you can be trapped.

“These people [involved in Monday’s incident] were very fortunate that this did not end in the tragedies that we have seen in Cochise County in the past. In the blink of an eye you are at the mercy of the forces of nature so don’t go in [and play in the stream], just sit on the bank and watch.”

Travel safely during monsoon season.

If water appears to be more than a few inches deep and is moving swiftly through a wash or across a roadway, do not attempt to cross. Instead, either pull over until the water recedes or turn around and seek a safe, alternate route. If this isn’t possible, turn around and plan the trip for another time,

If a warning sign has obviously been recently posted at a wash, do not attempt to cross it unless the wash is dry or it is clearly evident that danger from runoff is over.

Avoid hiking or camping in washes or channels where water runoff is evident. Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back.

Parents should keep a close eye on all children playing outdoors and warn those old enough about the danger of playing in or around washes or spillways.

While most long-time residents here welcome monsoon season, everyone should educate themselves on the potential danger posed by heavy rainfall.

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