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National

At Least 17 People Killed By Flash Flooding In Utah

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At least 18 people are dead after flash floods in canyons throughout southern Utah. Others are missing. From member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Terry Gildea has our report.

TERRY GILDEA, BYLINE: More than a dozen people were swept away in their cars earlier this week near the town of Hildale on the Utah-Arizona border. The two families were members of a polygamist sect based there. Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow briefed reporters this morning about one of the families caught up in the tragedy.

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GILDEA: One vehicle was a 15-passenger van that had Joseph Newell Jessop's family.

GILDEA: Barlow says two mothers - Josephine and Naomi Jessop - and eight children are dead.

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PHILIP BARLOW: All of those have been located. One son was the only survivor, who was located near the vehicle.

GILDEA: About 25 miles north in Zion National Park, hikers were caught at Keyhole Canyon as water came rushing through.

RICK PRAETZEL: When there's a lot of moisture in the air, you can avoid all that risk of the water that collects in a slot canyon by not going.

GILDEA: That's Rick Praetzel, a managing partner with Zion Adventure Company. It outfits and guides hikers in the canyons. He says even if the sky is clear when hikers enter, rain only a few miles away could prove hazardous.

PRAETZEL: And the sandstone virtually sheds all the water that falls on it. So if you have a drainage, for example, that's 2 square miles, all that water's going to drain into that slot.

GILDEA: National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney says flash floods in slot canyons can instantly disorient hikers, giving them almost no chance to escape.

BRIAN MCINERNEY: So you've got this incredibly cold water that's full of sediment and dirt, and you're getting beat on. And you can't get out, and you can't find the right way up. And you don't know about anything.

GILDEA: The weather forecast for the area shows rain subsiding over the next 24 hours, giving rescue teams better conditions to continue their searches. For NPR News, I'm Terry Gildea in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.