Family and community wonder if flash flood victims were ever warned

The community is still mourning the lives lost by the Payson floods and wonders if those killed were warned of the dangers.

PAYSON, Ariz. – The Gila County Sheriff’s Office identified the nine bodies recovered after a flash flood swept through the Cold Springs Swimming Hole, as their family and community wondered whether the victims ever had a warning.

There was so much emotion Monday from family after they spent the weekend identifying their loved ones, who were swept away Saturday

On Sunday, Carla Garnica asked that the search for her only brother, 27-year-old Hector Miguel Garnica, not be suspended.

RELATED: Drone, more dogs and personnel join search Tuesday

“He has to be found. They can’t stop looking until he’s found. He has to rest in peace with his whole family. He always said, ‘I’m never leaving my children and my wife.’ He has to complete his promise. He has to be with them. My mom has to see him,” Garnica cried.

Hector Miguel Garnica, or Miguelito, as he is affectionately known by his family, was swept away by the water and debris along with his wife and children, who are confirmed dead. They were five of 14 taken by the flash flood.

Of those 14 victims, four were rescued and nine bodies were recovered. They were at the Cold Springs Swimming Hole for a family reunion Saturday afternoon.

RELATED: Friends mourn man, family lost in flash flood

Albert Masterson lives along the river.  He heard and saw the flash flood roaring in.

“It’s unbelievable […] I’ve seen that river overflow like that and run really, really, really heavy. This magnitude and the way it came this time was just horrendous because of all the debri that it brought with it. […] just logs and mulch floating down the river,” Masterson said.

Masterson said he got the flash alert and knew cell service for those out in the area was poor; he said it was unlikely they ever got the warning.

“We have signs about bears in the area and you know tips like that, but no flash flood, you know. I haven’t seen any. It wouldn’t hurt you know to have something like that,” said Masterson.

RELATED: Teen recounts 'panic moment' while trapped by flood

At the parking area of the the Water Wheel recreation site in the Tonto National Forest, where the Gila County Sheriff's Office said the victims had parked, those was no warning about the possibility of flash floods on the information board.

During a press briefing Monday evening, David Hornung with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office said the forest was there for recreation and nature was unpredictable. He added that it's up to those enjoying the outdoors to plan ahead and stay safe.

Full statement from Hornung: 

I’m not trying to be negative, but you can put up all the signs you want and people are going to want to still come in here and recreate. We have a hard time when they close the forest due to fire restrictions of keeping people out.

I strongly urge anyone if they’re not familiar with where they’re going to, familiarize yourself where you’re at and watch the weather upstream from you because it could rain five miles away and that wall of water can come to you before you even get any kind of rain or anything.

There are times when the forest is closed, but if we restrict people going in during monsoon season that’s what the forest is here for, is for the recreation of everybody. We have enough restrictions with fire and having the problems with that.  The forest service wants to keep that ability to recreate in the forest there.

Monday night crews called off search efforts for the third time as night fell and more heavy rain poured over the region leaving family of the last missing man wondering if they’d ever see him again.  

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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