The park, near the California-Nevada border, received 1.46 inches of rain Friday, about 75% of the area’s normal annual rainfall.
LOS ANGELES — Hundreds of hotel guests trapped by flash flooding in Death Valley National Park were able to leave after crews cleared their way through rocks and mud, but roads damaged by floodwaters or blocked by debris are expected to remain closed until further notice. week, officials said Saturday.
The National Park Service said helicopters from the Navy and the California Highway Patrol conducted aerial searches of remote areas for stranded vehicles, but found nothing. However, it could take several days to assess the damage — the park near the California-Nevada state line has more than 1,000 miles of roadway on 3.4 million acres.
There were no reports of injuries as a result of Friday’s record-breaking rains. The park received 1.46 inches of rain in the Furnace Creek area. That’s about 75% of what the area usually gets in a year, and more than it’s ever seen in the entire month of August.
Since 1936, the only day with more precipitation was April 15, 1988, when 1.47 inches fell, park officials said.
Nikki Jones, a restaurant worker who lives in the hotel with colleagues, said it was raining when she went out for breakfast on Friday morning. By the time she returned, the rushing water had reached the door of the room.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Jones said. “I have never seen the water rise so fast in my life.”
Fearing that water might enter their room on the first floor, Jones and her friends put their luggage on their beds and used towels at the bottom of the door to keep the water out. For about two hours they thought about whether to flood them.
“People around me were saying they’d never seen anything this bad before — and they’d been working here for a while,” Jones said.
While their room was saved, five or six other rooms in the hotel were flooded. The carpet was later pulled out of those rooms.
Most of the rain — just over an inch — came in an epic downpour between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday, said John Adair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.
The flooding “cut off access in and out of Death Valley, just washing out the roads and creating a lot of debris,” Ader said.
Highway 190 — the main artery through the park — is expected to reopen between Fern Creek and Pahrump, Nev., by Tuesday, officials said.
Park employees, who also found themselves on closed roads, continued to shelter in place except in emergencies, officials said.
“Entire trees and boulders were washed away,” said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona adventure company who witnessed the flooding while sitting on a boulder on a hillside where he was trying to photograph lightning as the storm approached.
“The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain was just incredible,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
In most areas, the water receded, leaving behind a thick layer of mud and gravel. About 60 cars were partially buried in mud and debris. There were many reports of road damage, and residential water lines were broken in several locations in the Cow Creek area of the park. About 20 palm trees fell on the road near one tavern, and some residential buildings of the staff were also damaged.
“With the severity and widespread nature of this fallout, it will take time to recover and reopen everything,” park superintendent Mike Reynolds said in a statement.
The storm follows major flooding earlier this week in the park 120 miles (193 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas. Some roads were closed Monday after they were inundated with mud and debris from flash flooding that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona.
According to Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, the rain started around 2 a.m. Friday and has been visiting the park since 2016.
“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen out there,” said Sirlin, lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures, who began chasing storms in Minnesota and the high plains in the 1990s.
“Many of the washes ran several feet deep. There are rocks, probably 3-4 feet, covering the road,” he said.
Billeaud reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nev., and AP Radio Correspondent Julie Walker in New York.