PHOENIX – Days of heavy rains around the Grand Canyon created flooding that breached an earthen dam Sunday and forced helicopters to pluck scores of residents and campers from the gorge. No injuries were immediately reported.
The weather and dam breach caused flooding in a side canyon containing Supai Village where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live, said Gerry Blair, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff's Department.
Crews airlifted 170 people from the village and nearby campgrounds. Evacuees were subsequently bused to an American Red Cross reception center, officials said.
There were no confirmed reports of damage in Supai, Blair said.
The dam breaching was only one factor in the flooding, Blair said. The dam isn't a "huge, significant" structure, he said.
Still, a flash flood warning remained in effect, and search and rescue teams planned to stay in the village overnight as a precaution. Blair said authorities were still trying to contact some people known to be in the canyon, though the majority were accounted for.
Rescuers plan to return to the flooded area Monday to conduct further searches for people.
Some hiking trails and footbridges were washed out after the dam breach about 45 miles upstream from Supai, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge. Trees were uprooted, the National Weather Service said.
About 150 people had fled by helicopter, and evacuations were to continue until dark for those who wanted to leave, Blair said.
The effort was initially intended to include about 200 campers and possibly 200 village residents, Blair said, but he didn't know how many them were taken out.
As much as 8 inches of rain since Friday caused trouble even before the dam was breached. A private boating party of 16 people was stranded on a ledge at the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River on Saturday night after flood waters carried their rafts away, Oltrogge said.
The boaters were found uninjured and were rescued from the Grand Canyon, whose floor is unreachable in many places except by helicopter.
Rescuers tried to find visitors staying at the Supai Campground and escort them to safety, Oltrogge said.
Evacuees were being flown to a parking area 8 miles from Supai and then, if needed, bused to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Supai, said Tracey Kiest, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. She said about 30 people were there as of Sunday night.
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.
"That's all it took — just a few days of very heavy thunderstorms," he said.
Supai is about 75 west of the Grand Canyon Village, a popular tourist area on the South Rim. Havasu Creek feeds the Colorado, which runs the length of the canyon.
The flooding came on a weekend during the busy summer tourist season, when thousands of visitors a day flock to the canyon for spectacular views, hikes or to raft its whitewater.
The helicopters lifting residents out were from the National Park Service, the National Guard and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Oltrogge said.
In 2001, flooding near Supai swept a 2-year-old boy and his parents to their deaths while they were hiking.
The Grand Canyon has been the traditional home of the Havasupai for centuries.