Search continues for man swept away in Arizona flash flood

Last Updated Jul 17, 2017 10:29 PM EDT

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, Ariz. -- Officials suspended their search late Monday night in Arizona's Tonto National Forest after they picked through mud and debris looking for a man missing since Saturday. He was one of 14 family members swept away in a flash flood. Four were rescued, but at least nine were killed.

Officials say an approaching thunderstorm caused the search to be called off for the remainder of Monday, but it's scheduled to resume at dawn Tuesday if the weather permits, The Associated Press reports.

The flood was triggered by a rainstorm eight miles upstream. A wall of water -- six feet high at times -- caught families completely off-guard.

Cellphone video shows a man in a tree above the raging river, clinging to a young child.

"All of a sudden, this wall of water, and rock and debris, just came rushing at them," a witness said.

It was drizzling as 14 family members celebrated Maria Raya's 26th birthday at a popular swimming hole, when suddenly dark flood waters filled with debris came barreling down the East Verde River.

The flash floods started when a thunderstorm hit an area scorched by last month's High Line fire. Fire Chief Ron Sattelmaier said it was more violent than most because the water's natural barriers, like trees and shrubs, had been burnt away.

"All that debris and ash came roaring down that drainage and caught those people totally by surprise," said Sattelmaier.

One of the family members, Carla Garnica, pleaded for help. 

"They can't stop looking until he's found. He has to rest in peace with his whole family," she said.


Hector Garnica

CBS News

Search and rescue teams from around the state were trudging through the flooding aftermath. Twenty-year veteran Val Palinski said even the smallest personal item can help.

"Clothing, personal effects -- whatever," Palinski said.

Teams are searching the Ellison River in hopes of finding 27-year-old Hector Garnica, whose body may have been carried away miles from where his family last saw him alive.

Crews said that at its worst, the flood waters were 6 to 8 feet above normal.

  • Mireya Villarreal

    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent.