Payson flash flood reminiscent of deadly '81 Tucson event - Tucson News Now

Payson flash flood reminiscent of deadly '81 Tucson event

Tanque Verde Falls flooding in 1981 (Source: Arizona Daily Star) Tanque Verde Falls flooding in 1981 (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
Tanque Verde Falls flooding in 1981 (Source: Arizona Daily Star) Tanque Verde Falls flooding in 1981 (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

In 1981, on a hot summer Saturday afternoon in Tucson, a wall of water 10 feet high spilled over Tanque Verde Falls, killing eight people. 

According to the Weather Service post mortem on the tragedy, there were 150 people at the falls at the time who were "caught totally unaware" by the flash flood. In part, because the rain had fallen earlier at Redington Pass, about 4 miles away, and most people at the falls were not even aware of the storm that caused the flood.

It was the same scenario in Payson on Saturday, July 15, where nine people were killed and another is missing.

The rain fell 8 miles away, but brought a wall of water barreling down on a popular swimming hole at 45 miles an hour.

"They might not have even seen it," according to Mikyl Raymond, a volunteer for Search and Rescue for the past 44 years, who worked on rescue efforts at Tanque Verde in 1981. "You'd like to find everyone alive but unfortunately that's not always possible."

Raymond says it does not surprise him that the people in both cases were caught off guard.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," he said. "It's attractive to people. They've been going there for years and nothing has happened. They feel safe."

Even so, people should have an escape plan, should monitor the weather this time of year for rainstorms, and make plans to leave before the water reaches them.

Raymond has been on 2,000 search and rescue missions in his 44 years and says the flash flood deaths at Tanque Verde in 1981 are uncommon these days.

However, that doesn't mean they never happen.

As many as 35 people have died at the falls over the years.

But people are more aware and the forest service has developed new trails farther down the falls, which means fewer people are exposed to the most dangerous areas.

"We don't know if that has saved lives, but maybe it has," Raymond said. 

Check out the full report on the 1981 flooding below: 

Tanque Verde Falls Flash Flood by Tucson News Now on Scribd

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