‘Unprecedented’ rain, flooding shuts Death Valley, swallowing cars, stranding hundreds

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Death Valley National Park, famous for its parched, otherworldly landscapes, closed completely Friday due to historic rainfall and flash flooding, trapping about 500 visitors and 500 staff members in the park after the closures.

No major injuries were reported, though about 60 vehicles were damaged.

The park experienced “unprecedented amounts of rainfall” of 1.46 inches measured at Furnace Creek, which caused substantial flooding. The rainfall total is just below the previous daily record of 1.47 inches.

The total represents nearly three-fourths of a year’s worth of rain for the park, which sees yearly average precipitation of 2 inches.

No additional rainfall is expected Friday, but the incident marks the second time flash flooding has hit the park this week. On Monday, flooding affected many roads, and a Facebook post from the park showed a vehicle buried up to its headlights in dirt and gravel.

Sunny and hot conditions are expected to return to Death Valley this weekend, with highs in the 80s and 90s.

Heavy rain floods a road in the Mud Canyon area of Death Valley National Park on Friday.

(National Park Service)

“The flood waters pushed dumpster containers into parked cars, which caused cars to collide into one another,” the park said in a statement. “Additionally, many facilities are flooded, including hotel rooms and business offices.”

Park officials noted that most of the vehicles damaged were in a parking lot.

As of Friday evening, most of the visitors remained in the developed area of the park, with a few able to leave the park as crews managed to create makeshift roadways by moving mounds of gravel.

“All roads into and out of the park are currently closed and will remain closed until park staff can assess the extensiveness of the situation,” the park said in its statement.

Reopening of some roads had been expected to take around six hours from Friday morning. As of 6 p.m., however, all roads remained closed and it was unclear when they would reopen.

The last time a closure of this size occurred in Death Valley was in August 2004, when a rainstorm caused flash flooding, said Abby Wines, Death Valley’s public information officer. The rain totals for that incident are unknown.

The park did not open for 10 days, Wines said.

Friday’s flooding comes a week after monsoonal downpours sent water cascading into another famously arid region, the Las Vegas Strip, inundating casino floors and downing numerous trees. The floodwaters in Vegas were accompanied by wind gusts of up to 70 mph.

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