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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Rare’ Grand Canyon flooding forces 100 to evacuate near park

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AR - JULY 13: Visitors look out at the Grand Canyon from Ooh-Aah Point at the South Rim on July 13, 2014 at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. The Grand Canyon is among the state's biggest tourist destinations. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)  (Sean Gallup)
By Heidi Pérez-Moreno Washington Post

More than 100 people were evacuated Tuesday from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim in Arizona following mass flooding, according to local officials.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release it responded to reports of up to 3 inches of rainfall in Tusayan, located at the southern entrance of the Grand Canyon, that led to flash floods.

While no injuries were reported, hotels and residences in the area received evacuation orders, and various sites throughout the county closed due to the emergency.

A flood advisory from the National Weather Service issued Wednesday morning, effective through 2 p.m. Mountain time, warned of slick and muddy roads. An alert posted to the website for Grand Canyon National Park said excessive rainfall was possible Wednesday and Thursday.

Jon Paxton, a spokesperson with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday the Tusayan area has seen heavy rain and snow in previous years, but this flash flood was unprecedented.

“This is a rare, rare event,” he told the Washington Post.

County officials urged Tuesday afternoon that all unnecessary travel to and from the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park be avoided, but most areas have since been reopened. That includes Arizona Route 64, a highway that runs through the northern portion of the state.

Grand Canyon Unified School District safely sheltered around 70 students Tuesday and has since reunited them with families after parents were asked not to pick up their children until it was safe.

Flooding at the Grand Canyon parallels weather events across several parts of the United States, including Southern California and various areas across Texas. Earlier this week, Tropical Storm Hilary arrived from the Pacific, leading to record-high rainfall in California that brought flooded roads and mudslides.

Although no fatalities were reported and infrastructure damage was minimal, several counties have remained on watch for weather-related aftereffects.

Other flood watches have been in effect across the Pacific and Mountain areas, such as Nevada, southwest Utah and eastern Oregon due to Hilary’s effects.

Although tropical storms typically slam through areas alongside the Atlantic Coast during this time of the year, unusual weather patterns have placed this storm on the U.S.’s opposite coast. The National Hurricane Center is also observing other hurricane and tropical storms on the Atlantic, such as Tropical Storm Franklin and Tropical Storm Harold, which has weakened to a tropical depression.

Unusual weather patterns this year coincide with data that nonprofit First Street Foundation released in June showing how climate change is fueling more torrential rains and flooding across several parts of the country that don’t typically see rain.

The foundation’s research shows that “1-in-100 year storms,” or ones with a 1 percent chance of happening over the course of a typical year, are becoming more common, with some areas being five times more likely to see storms. Around 20 percent of the nation is likely to expect a 1-in-100-year storm to occur every 25 years, data shows.

In Tusayan, local representatives are coordinating response and public safety measures to mobilize resources and aid emergency shelters.

There are also efforts underway to clear debris from roads and help residents evacuate if needed, which Paxton said is being coordinated with the city’s emergency management and public works divisions.