DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. – Heavy flooding in the Mojave Desert (search) killed at least two people and forced the closure of Death Valley National Park (search), one of the hottest places on Earth.
Fierce storms that hit the desert over the weekend triggered flooding that washed cars off roads and sent mud, rock and debris cascading into the Furnace Creek Wash.
The two people who were killed were in a car stuck in mud, rock and debris about five miles from the Furnace Creek Ranch complex, which includes a 200-room hotel and dormitories where about 240 park concession employees are housed. Authorities recovered the vehicle late Monday, but they didn't know if the people were male or female or where they were from.
No other deaths or injuries were reported as of late Monday, park spokeswoman Roxanne Dey said.
She couldn't immediately say if more people were trapped by the flooding. California Highway Patrol and National Park Service (search) helicopters spotted at least six other vehicles off highways and dirt roads.
"The folks we did find are OK," Dey said. "But there still might be other cars under the mud."
It's not unusual for Death Valley to record high temperatures between 100 and 120 degrees this time of year, with overnight lows in the 80s.
Park Superintendent J.T. Reynolds said the park would remain closed for at least two days as severed water and wastewater lines were repaired. At one point, only two phone lines remained open.
Visitors at the Furnace Creek Ranch hotel and the 20 people who had been camping in a nearby campground were escorted out of the park on Monday.
Reynolds said rangers weren't sure if backcountry campers or hikers might have also been caught in the flooding.
California Highway 190 — a main road between the eastern Sierra and Nevada — was closed to through traffic for 130 miles, from Highway 395 in the Owens Valley to Death Valley Junction near the Nevada state line.
The park, with 3.4 million acres, is the largest national park outside Alaska and includes the Badwater basin — the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level.
Meanwhile, to the southeast, another powerful thunderstorm moved over the Needles area near the California-Nevada border late Monday night and caused flooding that shut down portions of Interstates 95 and 40. No injuries were immediately reported.