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6 dead, 1 missing in Zion National Park flash flood

Posted at 11:52 AM, Sep 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-17 11:52:20-04

Search crews in Zion National Park in Utah have found the bodies of six people killed in a flash flood and will search Thursday for a seventh person who is still missing, according to National Park Service spokeswoman Alyssa Baltrus.

The flood struck Monday afternoon while a group of seven people was in Keyhole Canyon, a narrow canyon formed by water wearing through rock over the centuries, the park service said.

The people in the group were between 40 and 50 years old and from California or Nevada, Baltrus said.

The park service has not identified any of the victims but the sheriff's department in Ventura County, California, said in a statement that one of the people killed was Steve Arthur, a sergeant and 21-year veteran with the department.

His wife, Linda Arthur, is the person who is still missing, the sheriff's department said.

The park service regularly warns people about the possibility of flash floods, according to the park Facebook page.

"All individuals who pick up permits are given safety information, including the current forecast and flash flood potential rating at the time they pick up the permit. Once inside a canyon, there is no way to contact individuals of changing conditions. When an incident like this occurs, a Search and Rescue Team will enter the canyons when it is safe to do so to prevent further loss of life."

The Virgin River rose rapidly as more than six-tenths of an inch of rain fell within one hour on Monday afternoon, the park service said.

A flash flood warning was established and all the canyons were closed, but park rangers could not get word to people in the canyons, Park Ranger Therese Picard said to CNN affiliate KSTU of Salt Lake City.

The victims' vehicles were found on Monday evening and search efforts started Tuesday, the park service said in a statement. Continued high water has hindered the search.

"Keyhole Canyon is a short, narrow slot canyon located on the east side of Zion National Park," the park service said. "A permit is required for traveling through Keyhole Canyon and individuals must complete several short rappels under 30 feet and swim through several pools of water."

Known for its spectacular canyons and rock arches, Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah near the Nevada and Arizona borders.

The same storm that sparked the flooding in the park also caused flash flooding near Hildale, which killed 13 women and children in two cars that were washed away by the raging waters.