Flooding in Death Valley National Park closed all roads into the park, buried cars and stranded about 1,000 people on Friday.
A deluge brought “almost a whole year’s worth of rain in one morning” into the famously hot and dry park i California desert. At least 1.7 inches (4.3 cm) of rain fell in the Furnace Creek area; the park’s average annual rainfall is 4.8 cm.
About 60 vehicles were buried in debris and about 500 visitors and 500 park workers were stranded, park officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries, and the California Department of Transportation estimated it would take four to six hours to open a road that would allow park visitors to leave.
It was the second major flooding event in the park this week. Some roads were closed Monday after they were flooded with mud and debris from flash floods that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona hard.
The rain started around 2 a.m., said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company who saw the flooding as he sat on a hillside rock trying to take pictures of the lightning as the storm approached.
Video and photos posted by Sirlin on social media showed fast-flowing water, toppled palm trees and cars caught in debris.
“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Ariz., and has been visiting the park since 2016. He is the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures and said he started chasing storms in Minnesota and the High Plains in the 1990s.
“I’ve never seen it to the point where whole trees and boulders washed down. The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain was just unbelievable,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
“A lot of sinkholes ran several feet deep. There’s rock probably 3 or 4 feet covering the road,” he said.
Sirlin said it took him about 6 hours to drive about 35 miles (56 kilometers) out of the park from near the Inn at Death Valley.
“There were at least two dozen cars that were smashed and stuck in there,” he said, adding that he did not see any injuries “or any high water rescues”.
During Friday’s downpours, flooding pushed trash cans into parked cars, causing cars to crash into each other. In addition, many facilities are flooded, including hotel rooms and business offices, the park’s statement said.
A water system that supplies it to the park’s residents and offices also failed after a line broke that was being repaired, the statement said.
A flash flood warning remained in effect into the evening, the National Weather Service said.
The Associated Press contributed reporting