Flash flooding at Death Valley national park closed all roads into the park, buried cars and stranded about 1,000 people on Friday.
A deluge brought “nearly an entire year’s worth of rain in one morning” into the famously hot and dry park in the California desert. At least 1.7in (4.3cm) of rain fell in the Furnace Creek area; the park’s average annual rainfall is 1.9in (4.8cm).
About 60 vehicles were buried in debris and about 500 visitors and 500 park workers were stranded, park officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries and the California transport department estimated it would take four to six hours to open a road that would allow park visitors to leave.
It was the second major flooding event at the park this week. Some roads were closed on Monday after they were inundated with mud and debris from flash floods that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona hard.
The rain started around 2am, said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company who witnessed the flooding as he perched on a hillside boulder where he was trying to take pictures of lightning as the storm approached.
Video and photos posted by Sirlin on social media showed fast flowing water, toppled palm trees and cars trapped by debris.
“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, and has been visiting the park since 2016. He is the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures and said he started chasing storms in Minnesota and the high plains in the 1990s.
“I’ve never seen it to the point where entire trees and boulders were washing down. The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain was just incredible,” he said in a phone interview on Friday afternoon.
“A lot of washes were flowing several feet deep. There are rocks probably 3 or 4 feet covering the road,” he said.
Sirlin said it took him about 6 hours to drive about 35 miles (56 kilometers) out of the park from near the Inn at Death Valley.
“There were at least two dozen cars that got smashed and stuck in there,” he said, adding that he didn’t see anyone injured “or any high water rescues”.
During Friday’s rainstorms, the “flood waters dumpster containers into parked cars pushed, which caused cars to collide into one another. Additionally, many facilities are flooded including hotel rooms and business offices,” the park statement said.
A water system that provides it for park residents and offices also failed after a line broke that was being repaired, the statement said.
A flood advisory remained in effect into the evening, the National Weather Service said.
Associated Press contributed reporting