A "40-foot-wide black wave" of rainwater, mud and debris came through a narrow canyon and swept the family away

By Caitlin Keating
July 17, 2017 11:43 AM
Flash flood
Ralph Freso/AP

Nine people, including a mother and her three young children, were killed in a flash flood on Saturday in Arizona while 14 family members gathered to celebrate a birthday.

At approximately 3:19 p.m., the Gila County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call regarding a Search and Rescue Operation around the Cold Springs Swimming Hole in Payson, Arizona.

Officials confirmed the mother’s name, Maria Raya, as well the eight other victims and the four who survived.

The family went to the swimming hole to celebrate Maria’s 26th birthday, according to the The Arizona Republic. But their party plans to escape the heat quickly turned deadly when a “40-foot-wide black wave” of rainwater, mud and debris came through a narrow canyon and swept the family away.

The water took Maria, her three children (all under 5 years old) and five other family members, the newspaper reports. Maria’s husband, Hector Miguel Garnica, 27, is also still missing.

Maria’s cousin, Maria Mandujano, said that they came to help with the search around 2 a.m. on Sunday, as they shouted their loved ones’ names while searching along the creek.

A family friend has set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money for the family’s funeral expenses.

Family members waited outside a Payson mortuary on Sunday for news of Garnica.

“He has to be found, Garnica’s sister, Carla Garnica, 22, told the newspaper. “He’s always said, ‘I’m never leaving my children or my wife.’ He has to complete his promise.”