Courtesy Disa Alexander
The Gila County Sheriff’s Office said it received a 911 call at around 3:19 p.m. local time (6:19 EDT) Saturday after the flash flood at the Cold Springs Swimming Hole in the Tonto National Forest.
Around 40 members of a search and rescue team were searching the banks of the Verde River, aided by a Department of Public Safety helicopter looking for the missing, Hornung said. A large family group was down by the river when the flood hit, he said.
The two missing people are a 2-year-old and a 13-year-old, a sheriff’s official said.
The area in recent months had suffered a series of forest fires that are believed to have created a large amount of debris that washed down through the creek and burst through the swimming hole on Saturday, the Payson Fire Department said.
Nearly an inch of rain is believed to have fallen between 1:15 p.m. and 3:55 p.m. local time on Saturday, according to the Automated Weather Observation Station in Payson, just south of the swimming hole.
On average, the area only receives 2.43 inches of rain for the entire month of July. The Verde River can rapidly swell during the periods of heavy rain, Hornung said. Arizona is in its monsoon season.
“Normally it’s just a trickle of a creek, but during the monsoon season it can go from a foot deep to 10 feet deep in a matter of minutes,” he said.
The Gila County Sheriff’s Office began a search and rescue operation around 3:30 p.m. after much of the heavy rainfall had already hit the area. Many of the roads and trails had already flooded and were closed.
The National Weather Service in Phoenix issued a flash flood watch that continues through Monday evening for the southern and central regions of Arizona.