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A community mourns, but fractures remain after Hildale floods kill 12

First Published      Last Updated Sep 05 2016 06:04 pm

Community mourns

but fractures remain after flash floods kill 12.

Hildale • Washes divide Hildale, Utah, and adjoining Colorado City, Ariz. A big one, called Short Creek Wash, is supposed to act like a big drainage ditch and runs at almost a 45-degree angle through the community.

Smaller washes connect to Short Creek Wash. At about 5 p.m. Monday, 16 people — women and children — were caught when water rushed from one of those smaller washes into Short Creek Wash. By Tuesday evening, authorities had confirmed 12 people were dead. One is missing. Authorities and residents confirmed that the three women killed were sisters: Della Johnson and Naomi and Josephine Jessop. The children had not been identified Tuesday night.

Naomi and Josephine Jessop were married to Joseph N. Jessop, who acknowledged Tuesday that his family was caught in the flood.

It's believed to be the most deadly single weather event in Utah history. As of Tuesday night, authorities had not disclosed the names of the dead or missing.

A flash-flood warning was in place on Tuesday, with more rain expected through the evening.

Religion divides this community, too. Short Creek is the home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Many members have been evicted or left on their own in the past decade.

That division was on display Tuesday, too.

Family on the outside wondered what happened and what they could do to help, or whether they would be allowed.

Ben Black said he had been told his sister-in-law and some nieces and nephews were among those killed. But on Tuesday afternoon, he was waiting for official confirmation.

Black said FLDS leaders evicted him in 2012. Family still loyal to the church will not communicate with him. He was leery of reaching out to his brother.

Black said he is still a Christian and believes the disaster was meant to be.

"They're in a better place," Black said of his dead family members. "I'm not mad about it."

Floods arrived in Hildale about an hour before the disaster. Hildale Mayor Phillip Barlow said at a news conference Tuesday that the victims had been in Maxwell Park, which sits in a canyon on the northeast edge of town, watching flooding there. When they traveled down Canyon Street to go home, they found that water had flooded a wash that crosses it.

John Barlow lives on the north side of that wash. He was stranded on the south side when the rains came. He watched the people in two vehicles, a van and an SUV, get out to view the water.

Barlow assumes that a debris dam then broke. He said the water in the wash rose 7 feet in 30 seconds, overflowing the banks.

"It was a wall," Barlow said in an interview Tuesday. "It was boom, boom, boom."

The people on the other side returned to their vehicles and tried to back up and get away, but the water overtook them. The flood swept away the van and SUV. Responders later found them about one-quarter mile away.

A search for the victims continued until darkness Monday, resumed at dawn Tuesday and continued into the evening. According to Washington County Emergency Services, the searches were "scaled back" just before 7 p.m. Those efforts were expected to continue on Wednesday morning if the remains of the last missing person had not been found.

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