Two canoers died in flooding in northern Arizona, and an unidentified man was found in a flooded wash near a sleeping bag and sport utility vehicle in the Rio Verde camping area near Fountain Hills on Thursday afternoon, Maricopa County sheriff’s officials said.
The man appeared to have drowned in flash floods, but authorities are waiting for a medical examiner to rule on the official cause of death, said Sgt. Travis Anglin, a sheriff’s spokesman.
Floodwaters continued to rise in the river bottom at the Needle Rock campground as detectives investigated, Anglin said.
"When people are aware there’s heavy runoff, please carefully choose what camping spots to take," Anglin said. "Every year there are flash floods, and every year there are problems."
The death is the third tied to what weather officials say is the second wettest storm to hit northern Arizona in 100 years.
The bodies of Prescott residents Brian Gianelli, 24, and San Francisco Art Institute student Luke Augosta, 21, were found Thursday, a day after they drowned while canoeing on the normally dry Granite Creek. A third Prescott man, Dewey Nelson, 24, was able to leap out of the canoe and make it to land, said Prescott spokeswoman Susan Hampton.
Gov. Janet Napolitano toured the flooded region — from Prescott to Sedona — in a National Guard helicopter on Thursday to assess damage. She declared a state of emergency for Yavapai County on Thursday, one day after doing the same for Coconino County.
"The rivers are running full right now. There are waterfalls coming off the sides," she said after the visit.
There is a 40 percent chance that rain will return to the Prescott and Sedona areas today and Saturday — after 4 inches fell since Tuesday. Flagstaff, which received as much as 20 inches of snow since Tuesday, has a 40 percent chance of more snow on those days. A new but less fierce front is expected to hit the northern cities on Sunday and could bring snow to Sedona and Flagstaff through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Most bodies of water — including Oak Creek in Sedona, which reached more than 12 feet above normal level — were settling back to normal Thursday. But the chance of more rain meant more risk of flooding.
Most roads are open to northern travelers today. However, many roads in Sedona, including state Route 89A, opened only to local residents Thursday, and were expected to be clear of debris and open to the general public by today.
"We are glad to see anyone in town," said William Loesche, Sedona’s fire marshal. "But if you see inclement weather, listen to reports. We ask people not to go in the creek. Some think it’s adventurous, but it’s the most dangerous thing anyone could possibly do."
The final storms of 2004 brought the Flagstaff area 2 /3 inch more rain in total than last year, ending the year at 23.61 inches. Phoenix ends the year with 7.68 inches of rain, less than the 8.23 inches of 2003.
In Flagstaff, the new snow brought so many visitors to the popular Snowbowl resort that cars were backed up.