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Scouts/scouters evacuated from Grand Canyon

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Maplewood Boy Scouts evacuated near Grand Canyon


by Carly Rothman/The Star-Ledger


Monday August 18, 2008, 12:03 AM


A group of Boy Scouts from Maplewood on a backpacking and rafting trip near the Grand Canyon were evacuated by helicopter Sunday after an earthen dam failed and flood waters threatened their campsite.


The six boys and three adult leaders were among scores of people rescued from campgrounds and tribal lands after days of heavy rains caused flooding along two creeks that flow into the Colorado River.


"Some boys had enough time to grab their backpacks and some did not," said Bridget Lai, whose husband Michael and son Kyle, 13, are on the trip. "There's not a whole lot you can do about a dam breaking. There's not a lot you can prepare for."


The Scouts from Troop 21 in Maplewood were halfway through their two-week adventure, having already explored Bryce and Zion national parks in Utah, and were camping in a gorge near Supai, Ariz. when the nearby Redlands Dam gave way early Sunday morning.


The dam failure caused some flooding in Supai, a village on a canyon floor by the Havasu and Cataract creeks where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge. The water released by the dam flowed into Cataract Canyon, then west into Supai, she said.


"We're not talking about significant amounts of water, but we are talking about water in addition to what was already occurring in Supai" as a result of heavy thunderstorms over the weekend, she said.


"The biggest issue up there was the rain. As it rains, the way the earth is up there, all of that rain goes right down into the canyon," said Maureen Oltrogge, a spokeswoman for the Grand Canyon National Park Service, representing the Joint Information Center established by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office.


A flash flood warning was in effect for the area until late Sunday evening. The area got 3 to 6 inches of ran Friday and Saturday and got about 2 more on Sunday, said Daryl Onton, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Flagstaff.


No structures were damaged after the dam failed about 45 miles upstream from Supai, but some hiking trails and footbridges were washed out, Oltrogge said. Trees were uprooted, the National Weather Service said.


Supai is about 30 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village, a popular tourist area on the south rim.


Helicopters from the National Park Service, the National Guard and the Arizona Department of Public Safety were sent to remove campers and villagers closest to the waters. Oltrogge said about 150 people had been removed by 10 p.m. Sunday night. Law enforcement officials were on the ground with the remaining campers and residents, Oltrogge said.


"We hope to have everyone out who wants to come out tonight. Anybody staying there over night should be O.K.," she said Sunday.


Evacuees were being flown to a parking area eight miles from Supai and bused to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Supai, the spokeswoman said.


That's where the Scouts from Maplewood were taken Sunday night, said Ken Smith, a spokesman for the Northern New Jersey Council of the Boy Scouts of America.


The flood waters had not yet reached the area where the boys were camping when the helicopters arrived to whisk them to safety, he said. All of the boys' hard-earned gear was lost, he said.


"The helicopters showed up, they hopped on the helicopters, and they went. They didn't have time to really grab much," he said.


The boys had worked for a year to prepare for their backpacking and rafting trip in the American southwest. They camped in the pouring rain and freezing cold. They awoke early for endurance training, and raised thousands of dollars for gear and travel by selling Christmas wreaths.


They flew out to Las Vegas early in the morning of Aug. 8 to begin their hiking, rafting and camping trip, and were expected to arrive home on Friday. Now the boys' leaders and families back homes are trying to arrange for their return to Maplewood, but communication has been difficult because of a lack of cell phone service and limited access to telephones.


"I'm grateful that they're O.K., and I know that they're with a good leadership team there," Bridget Lai said. She noted although her son's group was safe, rescue efforts were still ongoing last night, and she expressed her concern for people still awaiting information about their loved ones. "I really want them to come home."


The Associated Press and Mariam Jukaku contributed to this report.


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Update - Scouts and Scouters safe and arrangements made to get them home to New Jersey.


This was the "younger" group of Scouts -- the "older" ones from the troop are at Philmont.


(and I don't know what ages younger or older represent)



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I have trekked into the Havasupai reservation twice, most recently in 1995. I was neither aware of nor seen any earthen dam upstream, but apparently there was one in a side canyon, or maybe it was built in the intervening years. The canyon below the village where the campground is located is not a place where I would want to be caught in a flash flood. In fact there had been a flash flood between my two visits in 1992 and 1995 that had re arranged Havasu Falls quite a bit. There is essentially no place to go in the event of a flash flood but straight up the canyon wall. Apparently these people had sufficient warning.(This message has been edited by eisely)

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We camped below Supai last spring in the Havasu Falls camping area. I read the dam that broke was some 45 miles upstream from Supai.

Yes, there is literally no place to escape a flash flood in may parts. I remember tenting right down by the river and wondering what I would do if it flooded. I'm amazed nobody has been reported dead, although I think several are unaccounted for or not known to be missing.

They must have had a lot of warning to get up out of the camping area and back up the two miles to Supai.

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I have backpacked the Grand Canyon twice but both times with in the national park. I have never done Havasu Falls but know people who have. I know I wouldn't even want to be in bottom of the main canyon in a flood an from the picture I have seen of the Havasu Falls area it had to be one scary ordeal. I am glad everyone got out.


Scott Robertson



Helping leaders one resource at a time....

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