COLORADO CITY – Authorities continued searching through mud and debris Tuesday for a 6-year-old boy missing after a flash flood that killed 12 in this community along the Arizona-Utah line.
“It’s just a horrific event that was totally out of our control,” said Philip Barlow, mayor of neighboring Hildale, Utah.
Barlow said the town is used to rain but that the staggering number of deaths has acted as a “wake-up call” for city officials to rethink the community’s drainage system.
This remote enclave is best known as home to polygamists who are part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a sect that splintered from the Mormon Church. News coverage of the insular community often features its female residents wearing long-sleeved, pastel prairie dresses reminiscent of those worn by 19th century Mormons, their hair in long braids.
Bolstered by members of the Utah National Guard, search parties were scouring a seven-mile stretch of wash for Tyson Lucas Black, who was in a Suburban swept away by Monday’s flood. Also in the vehicle were his mother, Della Black, and three siblings, two of whom survived, officials said.
The flood also carried away a passenger van carrying Naomi and Josephine Jessop, plural wives of Joseph Newell Jessop, and eight children ages 5 to 11. One child survived, officials said.
“In my time in Utah, I have never seen this number of deaths from a single natural incident like this,” said Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management. “This is a very heartbreaking thing for this community to go through.”
Dougherty said the National Weather Service issued two flash flood warnings when heavy rain hit the area.
“By the time the alert had arrived, the flash flood was already happening,” he said.
The search focused on Maxwell Park, where many families in the area get water from wells. Authorities said those wells are now tainted, forcing those using them to find other sources of water.
Search leaders said they’re wary of deep mud and scoured banks of earth and sand that can collapse.
“It’s a pretty treacherous search for our personnel,” said Wade Russell, leader of Utah Task Force 1, which is coordinating the search.
“The local authorities did a great job of what we call a hasty search immediately following the flood,” Russell said. “Our job is a more focused search. So we will go back to those areas and do a more detailed search.”