HILDALE, Utah — When the thunderstorms hit, it took only a few minutes for Short Creek to turn from a trickle into a lethal torrent, ripping through this community.
“A roaring river, just a wall of mud and debris, ripping up trees,” said Pamela Black, 63, whose house overlooks the creek. “We knew it would flood, because it always does when there’s a downpour, but never anything like this.”
At least 16 people died in flash floods in the state on Monday, and four others were still missing late Tuesday. Twelve of the victims were women and children who had been trying to drive over a gully in Hildale when their cars were swept away; one in their party was still missing late Tuesday. Four hikers were also killed Monday in Zion National Park.
“It is dry most any day of the year, but in this instance there was a small flood starting in that channel,” said Kevin Barlow, assistant fire chief of this small city on the Arizona border. “They hesitated and watched the flood for a minute and were backing up when a huge 300- to 400-foot-wide flash flood came around and even behind them.”
The names of the dead were not immediately released, but residents said that the victims, like many people in the area, were members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or F.L.D.S., a polygamous sect that split from the Mormon Church in the early 20th century. The longtime sect leader, Warren S. Jeffs, was convicted in Texas in 2011 of child sexual assault, and is serving a life sentence.
The victims were three adult sisters and their children, said Carolee Jessop, 47, who has lived her entire life in this small town, where many people are members of a handful of extended, intertwined clans. One of the two vehicles was a white passenger van, a common sight among the large families here.
The victims had been to Maxwell Canyon but decided to seek shelter when the storm struck, Philip Barlow, the mayor of Hildale, said Tuesday at a news conference. Seeming stunned, Mr. Barlow explained that the victims had been driving on Canyon Street in the northeast part of the city and were crossing a bridge when a fast-moving surge of water and debris rose from the creek below and carried …Read More