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Utah flash flood kills two sisters, officials explain nature of area

Local News

EMERY COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The body of a 3-year-old girl has been found after she and her 7-year-old sister were swept away in a flash flood near Goblin Valley State Park.

Emergency responders picked up search and rescue efforts early Tuesday morning in Little Wild Horse Canyon, in search of the 3-year-old girl.

RELATED: Coworkers set up GoFundMe page for family who lost young daughters to flash flood

The girl’s body had washed up on a sand bank and was spotted by a Department of Public Safety helicopter crew on Tuesday at 11:58 a.m., according to Janalee Luke, a public information officer with the Emery County Sheriff’s Department.

Luke said at the time of Monday’s flash flood, the 3-year-old girl was with her mother, uncle and 7-year-old sister; and the girls’ father was awaiting their arrival at the trailhead.

RELATED: Over the last 100 years Utah has experienced several deadly flooding events

“When he saw the flood waters come down, he actually retrieved his 7-year-old-daughter and he began trying to resuscitate her,” Luke said. “Then he got some assistance.”

Once the girls’ father was able to get help, Luke said he went looking for his 3-year-old daughter. But not known until Tuesday, her body lay about 28-miles downstream – leaving this Utah family to cope the loss of their two young girls.  

Tuesday afternoon an ABC4 News crew observed the water from Monday’s flash flood is now drying up, and officials said these storms can hit the area quick and hard.

“When you get a lot of rain in a little time, over a wide area, these canyons drain a large area,” said Eugene Swalberg, a Utah State Parks public affairs coordinator. “And so that water has gotta go somewhere and it goes through those canyons, and it goes through those canyons in a hurry.”

Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk said – during search efforts – the area they were covering was vast and large due to flash flood debris.

Funk said at the time of the flash flood, the family was in “probably the worst area you could picture.”

“It would be like putting them through a washing machine,” Funk said. “I mean, they’re a foot and a half in places, the little swirlies.”

Swalberg explained the lay of the land and told ABC4 News that thunderstorms can be miles away – not visible near Little Wild Horse Canyon – making it difficult for any person to know there’s a flash flood on the way.

Living in Emery county as the sheriff, Funk said he himself has been caught in flash flood weather, explaining what can happen.

“You won’t even see the weather and I’ve been down in a slot canyon and then all of a sudden, water is just showing up and it’s 30-to-40 miles away that it [storm] hit,” Funk said.

Swalberg said the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the area Monday afternoon, however, he said people who are in the area do not receive notifications due to no cell phone service.

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