One man is confirmed dead in a flash flood that swept through the Virgin River Narrows of Zion National Park on Monday, and searchers are looking for a companion, also believed killed.
Elsewhere in southern Utah, Spring City, Sanpete County, is digging out from flash floods that caused an estimated $2 million to $2.5 million in damage, including crop losses and six destroyed bridges.On Tuesday, rangers at Zion National Park recovered the body of a man who probably drowned in the Narrows during a flash flood triggered by heavy rains. Although he has been identified, by press deadline Wednesday his identity was still being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
The body, that of a man in his 30s or 40s, was turned over to Washington County deputies. Park spokesman Denny Davies said the victim was not a resident of the Wasatch Front but he would not confirm whether he was from elsewhere in Utah.
Although no identification was found on the body, rangers believe they know who he was. They found his parked car, and inside were two sets of drivers' licenses - leading them to believe he had a companion who al-so perished.
"We're now organizing a search along the banks of the north fork of the Virgin River," Davies said Wednesday.
A group of hikers two miles upstream from the Temple of Sinawava parking area in the north end of the park noticed the body in the river about 5 p.m. on Monday. They pulled it out of the river but remained stranded by high waters until Tuesday morning, when they hiked out and told rangers.
A heavy rainstorm increased the river's flow by about 600 percent. Normally the river flows at 150 cubic feet per second, but after the storm Monday it was roaring through the canyon at more than 740 cps. At that rate, a hiker is lucky to stay alive, Davies said.
He and William J. Alder, spokesman for the National Weather Service, agree that flash flood warnings were in place.
Authorities discouraged hikers from venturing into narrow canyons before the storm, but not all listened. Also, signs were posted at trail heads warning hikers of the flood danger.
"Unfortunately, many people ignore the warnings and enter the narrows," Davies said. Hikers should avoid narrows in July and August, the months that flash flood danger is at its highest. Canyon hiking is the safest in spring and fall, Davies added
Davies confirmed that the victim had a permit to hike the Virgin River Narrows, "but we think he didn't do the hike that he was permitted to do." He is not sure what time the permit covered, although it was sometime Monday.
Asked whether the victim should have known a flash flood warning was in effect, Davies said, "Yes."
National Weather Service officials had predicted a 40 percent chance of thundershowers and had posted flash flood warni-ngs for southern Utah and Washington County, he said.
"We had given the park a heads-up on the potential flooding at 2 o'clock; gave them another call at 2:45, just prior to the flash flood warning" on Monday afternoon, said Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service regional office in Salt Lake City.
A formal warning was issued at 2:55, to remain in effect until 5:45 p.m. Then it was extended until 7 p.m.
At Lava Park within Zion, just west of the narrows, an automatic weather station recorded 0.37 of an inch of rain. The headquarters reported 0.47 of an inch. Rainfall easily could have been heavier in another area upstream of the narrows, he said.
"It doesn't take much to fill up a narrow canyon like that," Alder added.
The last fatalities in the Virgin River Narrows happened in 1961, when a flood drowned five members of a youth group from the Wasatch Front and Park City.
Three different floods hit Spring City, Sanpete County, when Canal Canyon Creek overflowed. They were on Wednesday and Friday last week and this Monday. Also, the towns of Freedom and Jerusalem, Sanpete County, were flooded last Friday, said Alder.
Donald Hagberg, chief of police at Spring City, said a rough estimate of the damage is $2 million to $2.5 million. "Apparently, we just got an overabundance of rain," he said.