Flash Flood in Zion National Park

Meya Smith

Tragedy struck Zion National Park September 14 when a flash flood took twenty lives.

A group of seven was taken from family and friends when they were canyoneering in Keyhole, Utah. The group was warned of the dangers, however, they decided it was safe enough to go through anyway. By the time the storm hit, park rangers could not get the group out without endangering themselves in the process. The members of the group were in their fifties, and six were from California. The group had hiked the area before and was extremely skilled in the activity.Unfortunately, they could not have been prepared for such a disaster.

Approximately 45 miles away, a six year old boy named Tyson Lucas Black went missing in the park. Tyson is the son of Sheldon Black Junior who also lost his wife Della May Black when their black Suburban was sucked into the flood.  A search for Tyson and other victims was placed on Thursday September 17. The search was not sooner due to the dangerous possibilities. The Chicago Tribune has reported that another search was planned for the next day. Sadly, however, Tyson Black is presumed dead after being missing for nearly three weeks.

A polygamous family has been hit hard by the flood after losing nine of their immensely loved children and two sister wives. The names of the children were not released, however, the wives lost were Josephine and Naomi Jessop. It was said that the family was in their van near those in the Suburban when a wall of water pulled them into the flood. One of the sons in the family, Joseph Jessop,  jumped out of the van before it got swept into the deadly waters. It is felt by the family of the victims that although ultimately the situation is wholly unjust, some good has come from it all. The family and the law enforcement are finally coming together in trying to cope with the loss of so many.

Services for Jessop and Black family members were held September 26 and were open to the public. The service was located at the top of a canyon road in Maxwell Park. Hundreds of people came to support the families, including Governor Gary Herbert   There was also a previous service where those not related to the victims were not invited. Sheldon Black spoke of his much adored wife and his missing son. Joseph Jr. also spoke at the funeral. The young boy was so small he had to stand on a stool to even reach the microphone. At the service, the other victims were mentioned.
Another body was found near the Utah-Arizona border. Ryan Mertlich, 33 years old, was on his way home from Washington to Hurricane, Utah when the storm struck. An article on Associated Press said that he was reported missing Tuesday, September 15, one day after he left Washington. Ryan’s car, a 1995 Geo Tracker, was found fifteen miles away from Colorado City, Arizona. Thursday, September 17, a search both on ground and in air was held.

Flash floods are a serious threat and Utahns need to know what actions to take if another flood were to hit. It’s suggested by American Red Cross to have an emergency bag filled with a first aid kit, a flashlight and extra batteries, a battery powered or hand crank radio, at least three days supply of water, and extra cash. If caught in a flood, always head for higher ground. If water is above your ankles, stay away from it. Water can sweep you off your feet fairly easily. If you’re approaching a flood and you’re in a car, turn around. If you are unable to turn around, get out of the car and head to higher grounds. Be extremely cautious at night when in the vicinity of a flood. Lack of light makes being aware of floods especially difficult.